Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam proposed decriminalizing, but not legalizing, the simple possession of marijuana and unveiled several other sweeping criminal justice reform proposals on Friday.
Some of the other proposals include expanding access to parole, raising the felony larceny threshold, raising the age of juvenile transfer to adult court, and permanently ending the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines, fees and court costs.
“All Virginians deserve access to a fair and equitable criminal justice system,” Northam said in a statement. “My proposed criminal justice reform legislation and budget initiatives will combat mass incarceration, increase supports for returning citizens, and ensure meaningful second chances for those who have paid their debts to society. This is a bold step towards a more just and inclusive Commonwealth, and I look forward to working with the General Assembly to pass these measures into law.”
Under the governor’s proposal, a person could not face any criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana, but would only face a civil penalty, which would be a fine of $50. Any person who had previously been convicted of simple possession of marijuana would have his or her records cleared. This would not affect penalties for trafficking or selling.
Northam’s proposal would double the threshold for a larceny felony from $500 to $1,000, which would lessen the penalties for people caught stealing something between the value of $500 and $999. Felony convictions lead to jail time and can sometimes create long-term barriers for education, housing and jobs.
The proposal would also expand on last year’s bipartisan legislation that temporarily eliminated the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines, fees and court costs. Northam is proposing that the commonwealth end the practice permanently. Since last year’s legislation, more than 50,000 Virginians received license reinstatements.
The proposal also would expand eligibility for parole for the elderly and people with certain medical conditions. To further his aims of criminal justice reform, the governor’s budget will also include n additional $4.6 million for pre-trial and probation services, $2 million for pre-release and post-incarceration services, and more funding for public defenders.
“This administration continues to demonstrate its dedication to comprehensive criminal justice reform,” Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran said in a statement. “The impact of this legislative package is substantial and transformative. Our parole reform bills will make many more offenders eligible for discretionary parole and the elimination of driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fees and fines and non-driving related offenses will affect hundreds of thousands of people.”
For the first time since taking office, Northam will be working with a Democratic majority in both chambers of the General Assembly.