Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
On May 21, 2020, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation (HB 972/SB 2) to decriminalize simple marijuana possession and prohibit employers from requiring applicants to disclose information related to past criminal charges for such possession. The law will take effect July 1, 2020.
Currently, Virginia law allows individuals charged with marijuana possession to be fined and/or to be imprisoned for up to 30 days for a first offense. Subsequent offenses may be charged as Class 1 misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500. The new law decriminalizes possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, punishable by a fine of no more than $25.
Additionally, the law provides that convictions for simple marijuana possession will not be reflected on a person’s criminal record. Records relating to prior charges for these minor offenses – including being arrested for, charged with, or convicted of such conduct – will generally no longer be open to public inspection and disclosure, with narrow law-enforcement-related exceptions (e.g., to determine eligibility to possess or purchase a firearm, to prepare a pretrial investigation report, and for certain employment opportunities with certain state agencies). If, however, a person is found to have possessed marijuana while operating a commercial motor vehicle, that violation will be reported to the state Department of Motor Vehicles and added to the person’s driving record.
Employers (including state agencies and state and local governments) and educational institutions are prohibited from requiring applicants to disclose information relating to charges of simple marijuana possession in any application, interview, or during any other part of the hiring, admission, or licensing process. Anyone who willfully violates these provisions is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor for each violation.
In addition, the law permits individuals whose simple marijuana possession charges are not pursued or otherwise dismissed, or who are acquitted of such charges, to file a petition requesting police and court records related to the charge be expunged.
Finally, the legislation requires the state Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Services, and Public Safety and Homeland Security to convene a work group to study the impact on the Commonwealth of legalizing the sale and personal use of marijuana in Virginia. The work group must report its recommendations to the General Assembly and the governor by November 1, 2020.