Herring reiterates call for marijuana reform as arrests rise
Attorney General Mark Herring is reiterating his call for cannabis reform in Virginia after new data shows that marijuana arrests rose to their highest level in at least 20 years in 2018.
According to the Virginia State Police Crime in Virginia Report, marijuana arrests have more than tripled since 1999, topping out in 2018 at 28,866, a 3.5% increase from 2017.
Approximately 52% of those arrested in 2018 were under the age of 24, and marijuana arrests accounted for 59 percent of all drug arrests in Virginia.
In an op-ed published last month in the Daily Press, Herring called 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.
“While other states are moving to a more sensible approach to cannabis, Virginia is still moving in the wrong direction. It makes absolutely no sense,”said Herring. “Marijuana arrests are now at their highest level in at least two decades and maybe ever, meaning that even more Virginians, especially young people and people of color, are being saddled with criminal records that can drastically affect their lives. Now is the time to put a stop to this costly, unfair, and ineffective approach, and to pursue a better, smarter, fairer course.”
In his call for cannabis reform, Herring cited the unnecessary negative impact of a criminal conviction for possession, the expense and social costs of enforcing the current system, and the disparate impact on African Americans and people and communities 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 220%, from around 9,000 in 1999 to nearly 29,000 in 2018. The cost of marijuana criminal enforcement is estimated to exceed $81 million each year.
The weight of the current approach to marijuana 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.