Attorney General Mark Herring calls for decriminalization of cannabis in Virginia
In an op-ed published in today’s Daily Press, Attorney General Mark R. Herring is calling for the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana, action to address past convictions for simple possession, and a move towards legal and regulated adult use in Virginia.
In calling for reform, Attorney General Herring cites the unnecessary negative impact of a criminal conviction for possession, the expense of enforcing the current system, and the disparate impact on African Americans and people and communities of color.
“Virginia’s policy of criminalizing minor marijuana possession is not working,” Attorney General Herring writes in the op-ed. “It is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions. The human and social costs are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it costs Virginia taxpayers. And the negative consequences of the current approach fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color.”
In the last decade the number of first time marijuana convictions in Virginia has risen 53%, from 6,533 in 2008 to 10,000 in 2017. Arrests for marijuana possession have increased about 115%, from around 13,000 in 2003 to nearly 28,000 in 2017. The cost of marijuana criminal enforcement is estimated to be up to $81 million each year.
According to the Virginia Crime Commission, African Americans comprised 46% of all first offense possession arrests from 2007 to 2016, despite comprising just 20% of Virginia’s population and despite studies consistently showing that marijuana usage rates are comparable between African Americans and white Americans.
“We can’t avoid the conversation any longer, especially when our current system continues to saddle Virginians with convictions and even jail time, and black Virginians at a strikingly disproportionate rate,” Attorney General Herring writes. “It is time for Virginia to embrace a better, smarter, and fairer approach to cannabis.”