Gov. Northam proposes decriminalizing marijuana in agenda for criminal justice reform

Virginia News
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RICHMOND, Va. (WFXR) — On Friday morning, Gov. Ralph Northam unveiled a new plan for reforming the criminal justice system for the 2020 General Assembly session.

Northam’s proposal for the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system includes:

  • Decriminalizing marijuana,
  • Raising the threshold for felony larceny,
  • Raising the minimum age for trying a juvenile as an adult,
  • Eliminating the suspension of a driver’s license on the basis of unpaid fines or fees, and
  • Reforming the parole system.

Not only does the governor plan to change the punishment for simple marijuana possession to a $50 civil penalty, but he also plans to clear the records for those previously convicted of simple possession.

Besides incarceration, felony records can interfere with education, employment, housing, etc. By raising the threshold for felony larceny from $500 to $1,000, Northam’s reform agenda will “ensure one mistake does not forever impact a person’s life.”

Northam’s agenda will also raise the age at which juveniles charged with certain crimes can be tried as adults without court approval from 14 to 16.

The governor also hopes to permanently eliminate the practice of suspending driver’s licenses on the basis of unpaid fines and fees or on the basis of non-driving related offenses, such as drug crimes. Ever since Governor Northam and the General Assembly first halted the suspension practice last year, over 50,000 Virginia licenses have been reinstated.

As for parole reform, Northam hopes to consider an individual’s medical condition and age when determining parole eligibility. Furthermore, in order to counter Fishback v. Commonwealth — which abolished parole in 1995 — Northam will extend consideration for parole eligibility to individuals sentenced from 1995 to 2000.

“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.”

Governor Ralph Northam

The governor’s two-year budget initiatives include:

  • $5.6 million to add more district court clerk positions across the Commonwealth,
  • $4.6 million to expand pre-trial and probation services,
  • $2 million to support the reintegration of adult offenders with pre-release and post-incarceration, and
  • $1.3 million for the Virginia Parole Board to investigate and develop supportive release plans for offenders considered eligible for parole.

Northam’s budget proposal also includes funding for 59 additional public defenders across the Commonwealth and the creation of a new public defender’s office in Prince William County.

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