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Marijuana has been legalized in many states for both medicinal and recreational use. While the state of Virginia has yet to pull the trigger on decriminalizing marijuana, some lawmakers are trying to reduce the penalties for people who have been charged with marijuana possession for the first time.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment Jr., has proposed legislation that would apply deferred disposition to first-time offenders. This essentially means that those who have been charged with marijuana possession for the first time may have their charges dismissed if they meet certain conditions. Once the alleged offenders go through the process, the bill may also allow them to have their arrest expunged from their criminal records. Deferred disposition decisions will be recorded in a separate database to make sure that only first-time offenders are benefitting from these new laws.

The Senate panel approved Norment's proposal, while killing a bill that would have reduced the simple possession of marijuana to a civil offense resulting in a fine. Under the current law, simple possession of marijuana may result in up to 30 days in jail and up to $500 in fines.

Those who oppose the decriminalization of marijuana are concerned with the dangers it poses to highway motorists. However, many supporters say that if marijuana possession is criminal, police officers will have no trouble stopping and frisking people for questionable reasons. With Norment's proposal, young adults convicted of simple possession of marijuana may have a real chance to move forward in life with a clean record, rather than being penalized in a manner that could have a major impact on their futures.

Source: Daily Press, "A first offender break for marijuana gains traction," Dave Ress, Jan. 29, 2018

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