In an op-ed in the Daily Press on Saturday, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring called for cannabis decriminalization in the state, asserting that prohibition “is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions.”
Herring points out that arrests for low-level cannabis possession in the state have increased by about 115 percent from 2003 to 2017 — from 13,000 to 28,000 — and the number of first-time cannabis convictions along have also spiked from 6,500 in 2008 to 10,000 in 2017. Herring said prosecutions and incarcerations associated with cannabis criminalization cost the state $81 million annually “in addition to the staggering human and social costs.”
In the editorial, Herring cites a Virginia Crime Commission, which found that African-Americans represent 46 percent of all first-time cannabis possession arrests made in the state despite only comprising 20 percent of the state’s population. That report estimates that 10,000 arrests could be prevented if Virginia decriminalizes cannabis.
“So what does a more rational, just, and equitable cannabis policy look like in Virginia? It’s a question that will require thought, consideration, and input from a wide range of stakeholders, but the time is right to begin working toward legal and regulated adult use.” — Herring, Daily Caller op-ed, June 15
Herring joins Gov. Ralph Northam in advocating for cannabis law reforms in the state. Northam has previously pushed for state-wide decriminalization and, as Lt. Governor, wrote a letter to the Crime Commission pointing out that the $67 million the state spends per year on cannabis enforcement could create 13,000 pre-k openings.
There are currently two bills in the Virginia Legislature to tax and regulate cannabis sales; both remain in Committee for Courts and Justice.