Across the country, states are moving toward decriminalizing marijuana. As of Jan 1, 2020, Illinois became the 11th state to join the likes of Colorado and California. For Virginians, the House passed HB 972 last month that would legalize recreational cannabis use in the state. The Senate is currently negotiating the details of the bill.

Decriminalization programs in other states have produced mixed results. Critics speculate that federal laws banning recreational use make it more difficult for these programs to find success. There are likely many contributing factors that impact the results.

Successful decriminalization and taxation

There has been some success with state decriminalization programs. In the years since Colorado’s groundbreaking legislation, the state has generated over $1 billion in tax revenue. This surplus goes toward over 60 programs that assist with mental health, public housing, education and more. Colorado’s program is largely regarded as a success and sets many promising benchmarks for the states that follow.

Pitfalls in programming

Colorado’s success may be something of an outlier, however. In California, decriminalization has hit snags in allocation and impact. The Golden State expected to generate $643 million in pot taxes its first year but struggled to collect half that. Many complain that the taxes are too high, prompting many low-income users to continue to patronize the more affordable black market. In fact, legalization has only served to feed criminal enterprise, as many sellers can now legally grow domestically.

Virginia’s proposal

Virginia will not decriminalize recreational cannabis this year if it approves HB 972. As such, residents should remain aware of the legal ramifications of marijuana possession and use, as regular arrests still occur. The consequences for possession in Virginia can also be severe — first-time offenders incur a $500 fine and may spend up to 30 days in jail. A second offense can cost up to $2,500 and one year in jail. Details about how HB 972 could change things for Virginians are not yet available.

Those facing criminal charges for marijuana possession should contact a criminal defense attorney with experience in such matters. The conversation on the legality of marijuana is evolving in America, but a robust legal defense may still prevent a criminal record from impacting one’s future educational and employment opportunities.