Virginia Cannabis Summit looks to reform, decriminalization
A day-long conference styled the Virginia Cannabis Summit is aimed at creating a plan to reform state-level cannabis laws.
The forum, hosted by Attorney General Mark Herring and the Virginia Legislative Cannabis Caucus, which actually exists, includes five panels or presentations from cannabis policy experts and legislators, attorney general staff, and law enforcement officials in states that have decriminalized or legalized regulated adult use.
Herring, the cool attorney general, has called for immediate decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana, action to address past convictions, and a move towards legal and regulated adult use.
“I don’t believe that Virginia’s current approach of criminalizing cannabis is working,” Herring said in opening remarks kicking off the summit. “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. It’s clear to me that the time for cannabis reform has come. Justice demands it. Virginians are demanding it. And I’m going to help make sure we get this right.”
“Following several years of forming consensus around medical cannabis products, we have to be ready to take action in the upcoming legislative session to further reform our laws in this arena,” said State Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax. “This effort will include a more robust medical cannabis program and Attorney General Herring’s summit is a big step in ensuring we are knowledgeable on the issue and prepared to do this right. There are better, smarter ways to handle cannabis policy. Virginia is ready for evidence-based reform and that is what we will provide.”
“This summit is a great opportunity for me and my fellow legislators to learn from the experiences of other states as we consider how to create more fair, just, equitable, and effective cannabis laws here in Virginia,” said State Del. Stephen Heretick, D-Portsmouth. “I really appreciate Attorney General Herring’s foresight in bringing us all together, and his commitment to cannabis reform.”
“It’s time for public policy to catch up with public opinion, and NORML applauds Attorney General Herring for his efforts to foster and advance evidence-based cannabis laws,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, Executive Director, Virginia NORML. “We look forward to supporting the attorney general and the Virginia Cannabis Caucus in their work reforming marijuana laws for a safer Commonwealth.”
Arrests for marijuana possession in Virginia have more than tripled from around 9,000 in 1999 to nearly 29,000 in 2018. 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.
The Virginia Crime Commission found that African Americans comprised about half 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.
The cost of marijuana criminal enforcement in Virginia is estimated to exceed $81 million each year.