Virginia Democrats have made no secret that they planned to use their new majorities to decriminalize marijuana this year. (To the extent that there’s been a debate, it’s been focused on whether the state should skip straight to outright legalization.)
Less certain was how many members of the GOP, whose leaders have blocked decriminalization legislation for years, would support the proposal.
The answer came with a floor vote Monday, when nine GOP delegates, or just shy of a quarter of the caucus’ members, joined House Democrats to pass a bill reducing the penalty for possession of a half ounce or less to a $25 fine.
Members gave varied reasons for their vote.
“I just have a libertarian streak,” said Del. Michael Webert, R-Fauquier. “People should be able to do stuff.”
Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, who also frequently aligns himself with libertarian values, called chasing low-level drug offenders a poor use of police resources.
“I don’t think we should be putting people in jail for possession of marijuana,” he said. “I’d rather we use law enforcement resources to go after violent criminals and people that are creating victims.”
Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick, meanwhile, said he viewed decriminalization as an important conversation starter.
“No matter how much you may be for or against legalization of marijuana, it’s coming our way,” he said. “I think this is a good step forward to get ready for what our criminal justice system is going to look like going forward.”
Other GOP members who voted for the decriminalization bill are Dels. Robert Bloxom (Accomack), Emily Brewer (Suffolk), Carrie Coyner (Chesterfield), Glenn Davis (Virginia Beach), Keith Hodges (Middlesex) and Danny Marshall (Danville).
The Senate is scheduled to vote on similar legislation Tuesday.
Staff writer Graham Moomaw contributed to this report.