A bill that would eliminate jail terms for the first offense of possessing marijuana for personal use was reported to the Virginia Senate today by the Courts of Justice Committee.
The bill, approved by the committee 7 to 5 last night, also would eliminate jail terms for the first offense of growing marijuana for personal use and provide loser mazimum sentences for distributing the drug.
Sen. Frederick C. Boucher (D-Abingdon), chief patron of the measure, argued before the courts committee that reduced marijuana penalties are needed to encourage police to concentrate their drug enforcement efforts on users and distributors of heroin and other hard drugs.
A study commission headed by Boucher found that marijuana charges continue to make up a growing percentage of drug prosecutions in Virginia despite past General Assembly efforts to induce law enforcement agencies to concentrate on other drugs.
Virginia's current marijuana laws provide for a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine for possessing marijuana for personal use and sentences of up to 40 years for cultivating or distributing the drug.
The proposed maximum sentence for a first conviction on a charge of possessing or cultivating marijuana for personal use would be a $500 fine. Ten other states have eliminated jail terms for such offenses.
The bill would set maximum penalties ranging up to 30 years in prison for distribting the drug, depending on the amount involved. it also would permit physicians to prescribe marijuana to treat symptoms of certain diseases, including glaucoma and cancer.
Boucher said in an interview today he is optimistic that the Senate will act favorably on his bill next week despite the close committee vote. Two members of the committee who vavor the bill were absent when the vote was taken. he said.
If the measure makes it through the Senate, it is expected to win approval in the House of Delegates partly because influential conservatives on the-House Courts of Justice Committee signed the commission report recommending the penatly changes.
In other assembly action, House and Senate supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment giving the District of Columbia voting representation in Congress have urged that the issue be studied for consideration by the legislature in 1981.