The Senate on Monday passed a bill that would allow someone charged with possession of marijuana for the first time to later pay $150 to have the charge expunged.
The vote on Senate Bill 954 by Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, was 38-2. Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said he opposed the bill because it did nothing to stop the racially disparate criminal enforcement of marijuana laws, and he cited public opinion polls saying people no longer want marijuana possession prosecuted as a crime.
Norment acknowledged his measure was not a decriminalization bill, but said it “makes a substantial step forward.”
Norment disappointed advocates for marijuana reform earlier this year when he changed his position on decriminalization. Norment had said he would push for a bill this session to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, but said he changed his mind because such a bill had no chance of passing in the House.
His expungement bill would allow someone to defer a finding on a charge and be found not guilty if the person remains drug free and does community service, Norment said.
The expungement fee would be used for Virginia State Police to maintain a database of those who had charges expunged, so prosecutors and courts could stop someone from using that benefit more than once.
Revenue collected would also go to educational efforts to prevent opioid abuse.
Initially, Norment’s legislation would have required additional money in the budget for the database, but he said Monday that the fees paid by those charged will cover the costs of it.
A poll released this month by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University showed 76 percent of Virginians support decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana.
The Senate on Monday also passed Senate Bill 334 by Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, which would allow someone charged with underage alcohol possession to seek expungement of the charge once turning 21.
Additionally, the Senate passed Senate Bill 403 from Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, that creates an expungement process for underage alcohol and marijuana charges five years after a sentence and probation have been completed.