Herring honored with Virginia NORML’s 2019 Vanguard Award
Herring has called for the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana, action to resolve past convictions and a move towards legal and regulate adult use. In calling for reform, Attorney General Herring cited 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.
“As attorney general, I have a special obligation to fight for justice, opportunity, and equality for all Virginians, which means I’m always thinking about whether we are living up to that standard, and it is clear to me that criminalizing marijuana possession isn’t working,” said Herring. “We have a system where getting caught with one joint, or a small amount of cannabis can totally derail someone’s life. There are smarter, better ways we can approach cannabis, and that begins with decriminalizing simple possession of small amounts, addressing past convictions, and taking responsible steps towards legalization. I want to thank Virginia NORML for honoring me with this award and all the hard work they do to advocate for cannabis reform.”
“Virginia NORML is thrilled to honor Attorney General Herring with this years award,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, Director, Virginia NORML. “His advocacy for not only decriminalizing but legalizing and regulating adult-use marijuana has significantly elevated the conversation regarding the immediate need for legislative action and demonstrates his unwavering commitment to justice for all Virginians.”
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. About 90% of marijuana arrests in 2018 were for possession alone and arrests for cannabis possession have increased about 115%, from around 13,000 in 2003 to nearly 28,000 in 2017. The cost of cannabis criminal enforcement is estimated to be up to $81 million each year.
The weight of the current approach to cannabis enforcement falls disproportionately on African Americans and people and communities of color. 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.