Ragland, a 23-year-old Louisa native, lost some driving privileges for six months in 2016 after the officer found a small amount of marijuana in his car. Through a court process known as deferred disposition, his record now shows the charge was dismissed.
Because Ragland can’t remove that judgment from his record, he carries it as a stigma whenever he applies for work. It hasn’t hurt his job prospects so far, but it’s made him think twice about using the drug again.
“If there was no penalty, I would smoke,” he said. “I thought about just smoking on my personal time, but it’s so risky. I’d rather not take that risk again.”
Society has taken a hard look in recent years at whether marijuana should be criminalized like harder drugs such as opiates or cocaine. One of the highest-ranking Republicans in the state senate, Tommy Norment (James City County) has introduced a bill to eliminate the prospect of jail time the first time someone is charged with marijuana possession.
The legislator stopped short of proposing to decriminalize marijuana, which some General Assembly members have called for. Advocates see that as a first step toward legalizing recreational use as is the case in Washington, D.C.
Norment’s bill would also allow someone in Ragland’s situation to apply to expunge his court case, meaning it would disappear from public records. Ragland would have to pay $300 for the application, in addition to the fine of up to $500 that is currently levied.
Twenty-nine Louisa County residents were in court during the first six months of 2017 for marijuana possession or a related charge. Some, like Ragland, agreed to a deferred disposition, which requires them to give up some driving for six months and to take a course geared toward drug users offered by the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP).
(This is a partial article. Read full article in the Feb. 1, 2018 issue of The Central Virginian)