More than 64,000 misdemeanor charges related to distribution of cannabis have been sealed in Virginia since July, when pot legalization officially took effect in the commonwealth.
The figure emerged last Thursday “during a meeting of the legislature’s Cannabis Oversight Commission,” according to the Virginia Mercury.
“Officials said the records were scrubbed from the state’s criminal record database, which is used by employers like school boards, state agencies and local governments to screen employees,” the website reported, and it comes after Virginia “had already sealed 333,000 records detailing charges of simple possession last year after the state reduced the offense to a civil infraction on par with a traffic offense.”
In April, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation into law that made the state the first in the South to legalize recreational pot use for adults, a major step forward for the region, and a reform that the Democrat characterized as a step toward “building a more equitable and just Virginia and reforming our criminal justice system to make it more fair.”
“What this really means is that people will no longer be arrested or face penalties for simple possession that follow them and affect their lives,” Northam said during a press conference at the time. “We know that marijuana laws in Virginia and throughout this country have been disproportionately enforced against communities of color and low-income Virginians.”
Although retail sales in Virginia are still likely years away, the new law took effect on July 1. On that day, adults in the commonwealth could legally possess up to an ounce of cannabis and grow up to four weed plants at home.
Since then, Virginia’s new law has continued to take shape. Weeks after it took effect on July 1, Northam announced “appointments to the three newly-created boards responsible for overseeing the legalization of recreational marijuana in the Commonwealth.”
The law created a regulatory agency known as the Cannabis Control Authority that will oversee the state’s new marijuana market.
“In the coming years, the Board will work to create a fair and equitable regulatory structure and provide critical guidance to the CCA’s staff as they work to develop a workforce, establish regulations and ensure that marijuana legalization accomplishes the health, safety and equity goals established by law. Board members cannot have financial interests in the cannabis industry,” the governor’s office said at the time.
The Cannabis Control Authority has stated that it “will not be legal to sell marijuana before January 1, 2024.”
“While the Cannabis Control Authority can begin its work on July 1, 2021, it will take time for the authority to hire staff, write regulations and implement equity and safety initiatives,” the authority explained. “Additionally, many of the regulatory sections of the bill must be reenacted (approved again) by the 2022 General Assembly before becoming law.”
After unveiling the five appointments to the board, Northam said that “Virginia is committed to legalizing cannabis the right way—by learning from other states, by listening to public health and safety experts and by centering social equity.”
“There is a tremendous amount of work ahead to establish an adult-use marijuana market in our Commonwealth, and I am proud to appoint these talented Virginians who will bring diverse backgrounds, an incredible depth of expertise and a shared commitment to public service to this important effort,” Northam said in a statement.
The sealing of the misdemeanor distribution charges last week is part of the Virginia legislature’s “broader expungement reform that will automatically seal other misdemeanor charges, including underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing and disorderly conduct,” according to the Virginia Mercury.