Effective July 1, 2017, a long-overdue change to Virginia’s marijuana possession penalties will finally remove an archaic Virginia law.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a bill on March 27, 2017 that removes the statutory requirement that a conviction for possession of marijuana must result in the suspension of the defendant’s license for a period of 6 months. Instead, the new law puts the decision to impose a license suspension solely in the hands of the presiding judge, allowing him or her to consider the facts of the specific case and determine whether a license suspension is or is not appropriate under the circumstances.
Previously, a defendant could be convicted of possession of marijuana in Virginia while walking in public and, by statute, his drivers license would have to be suspended for 6 months even though he was not driving at the time of his citation. This was an unnecessarily severe penalty for the possession of marijuana offense and was extremely unpopular among Virginia residents. Before this bill, a first offense for possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine, plus six-month suspension of the individual’s license. This mandatory suspension of driving privileges has been particularly burdensome among Virginia’s lower income population, who often need to drive between multiple jobs and their extremely fluid work schedule made getting a restricted license approved by the court extremely difficult.
There are, however, still caveats to this new rule regarding the suspension of drivers license related to possession of marijuana convictions:
- Juveniles caught with personal amounts of marijuana will still face an automatic six-month suspension of their driving privileges.
- For adults, the license suspension would be replaced with 100 hours of community service – so there is still an added punishment for possession of marijuana.
According to the Virginia DMV, 5,762 people had their licenses suspended last year due to marijuana possession convictions. Again, the vast majority of these have been proven to be low-income Virginia residents.
We’re still a long, long way from legalizing marijuana in Virginia – but removing this archaic law requiring the automatic suspension of driving privileges merely for possessing marijuana is at least a baby step in the right direction.
If you have been charged with possession of marijuana in Fairfax County, please reach out to attorney Justin Ervin today for a free consultation.
We can always be reached at (703) 962-7790.