Starting September 3, citizens charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana in Alexandria will have their charges dismissed, so long as they successfully complete a new diversion program, Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter announced on Wednesday.
The new program will require participants to complete a drug screening, community service, and to comply with pretrial supervision. They will not have to plead guilty and won’t face any fines or court fees.
Cases will be continued for six to nine months after charges are filed and will then undergo a review; if a participant has successfully met the program’s requirements, their case will be dismissed. The initial misdemeanor charge won’t disappear, but anyone who completes the program will be able to petition to have the charge expunged from their record and Porter’s office will “liberally agree to such requests if the legal requirements for expungement are satisfied,” Porter said in a statement.
Alexandria’s plan goes even further than Virginia state law, which allows people with no prior drug convictions a chance to avoid a criminal conviction. Porter’s plan will allow anyone charged with a small amount of marijuana for personal use to participate, even if they have a criminal record.
Porter said he was looking for a way to minimize punishment for marijuana possession, while still complying with current law, the Washington Post reported.
His efforts come after the Virginia Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that judges can block local prosecutors from dismissing marijuana possession cases, a ruling that influenced Porter’s decision not to vacate marijuana cases en masse.
Porter also cited the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s failure to decriminalize marijuana possession as part of his reasoning for creating the program. “Creating a local marijuana diversion and expungement docket is the right thing to do given that the House of Delegates has continued to block even the most basic criminal justice reform in Virginia,” Porter said.
Porter wants lawmakers to decriminalize marijuana possession, so that his office can focus on more serious crimes, but for now, Porter is satisfied with the compromise that his plan represents.
“I am particularly pleased that offending citizens who complete our program will be eligible for expungement and may therefore avoid the negative consequences a criminal record causes in employment, education and housing.”