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Marijuana to be legal in Virginia July 1, but those behind bars on marijuana-related offenses won’t be automatically released

Published: Apr. 28, 2021 at 7:34 PM EDT
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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Marijuana will soon be legal in the commonwealth starting July 1, but that does not mean those jailed for marijuana-related offenses will get out right away.

While the new legislation takes effect July 1, people will not have marijuana-related charges cleared from their records right off the bat, especially if they are more serious.

“I’m pretty sure that the expungement of past convictions is going to take a while to put into effect,” Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Hingeley said.

Hingeley says people in jail for more serious marijuana-related offenses will have to go through a petition-based process in order to get a shot at release.

“There’s an interesting provision in the new statute for review of people who are currently in jail,” he said. “This new statute provides a mechanism for reviewing those convictions and possibly reducing sentences and getting people out of jail, so that’s really important to know is that possibility for people who are in jail now.”

In Charlottesville and Albemarle County both prosecutor’s offices say no one has been prosecuted for marijuana-related offenses in the last year or so.

“We don’t have people in jail for marijuana possession in Charlottesville and Albemarle County,” Hingeley said.

Other jurisdictions do. Lawmakers weighed the option of adding a provision to grant resentencing hearings to people behind bars on certain marijuana charges, but it didn’t make it to the final bill.

For now, the petition process is the only option.

“Petitions, once July 1 comes around, to somebody who’s in jail, they’re entitled to petition and to go ahead and have a court review their sentence and possibly release them,” Hingeley said.

Hingeley says it is important to do some research on the law before July 1 since it will include some limitations.

“The big thing that goes into effect July 1 is possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is legal, if you’re of age,” he said. “Some of the other things will take a year or two or more to fully go into effect.”

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