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What Richmond, Chesterfield, Henrico, and Hanover plan to do about prosecuting marijuana cases

RICHMOND, VA. -- The Commonwealth's Attorneys for Chesterfield, Hanover, and Henrico Counties and the City of Richmond will not be copying the decision by the Portsmouth Commonwealth's Attorney to no longer prosecute possession of marijuana case.

Stephanie Morales told WAVY-TV that the policy change is effectively immediately.

She said the cases are time consuming and take up resources that could be used on more serious crimes.

CBS 6 News reached out to the Commonwealth's Attorneys for Chesterfield, Hanover, and Henrico Counties and the City of Richmond to see if this policy was something they were considering or had considered.

Richmond

In Richmond, Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Herring said it was not something his office will be doing.

"I think it's a complex issue and each locality has to do whatever reflects the will and the tolerance of its community. I'm not there, yet, for the city," said Herring. "Mostly, because I think it should be the product of a pretty robust conversation involving our office, other city stakeholders, where we've really taken a look at the effect of de-penalization or decriminalization.”

Herring added that the prosecution of marijuana cases is not a significant burden on his office.

“There’s so much else on our dockets that marijuana cases probably constituent an insignificant percentage,” said Herring. “The other thing is, I don’t know that a whole lot of preparation goes into marijuana cases because our office bends over backward to give people opportunities to avoid convictions."

Chesterfield County

In Chesterfield County, Commonwealth's Attorney Scott Miles responded to CBS 6's inquiry by forwarding a memorandum titled "Marijuana Prosecution Policy" that he issued on November 30, 2018.

In it, Miles stated the policy is to "standardize our office's advocacy on marijuana possession cases, to mitigate the disproportionate effects of marijuana prosecutions on vulnerable populations in our community, and to ensure that our approach to these cases is appropriate to their effect on public safety."

The memorandum added that prosecutors will not waive jail time on marijuana cases, so that defendants would still have access to a public defender if they needed one. However, prosecutors "will extend plea offers that do not involve jail time, active or suspended, on all simple possession of marijuana charges."

It added that in cases where the defendant "does not have prior convictions for felonies or jailable misdemeanors", the prosecutor will offer to hold off the case for about 90 days and if, during that time, the defendant can prove they completed 24 hours of community service and a completed a substance abuse education class, the prosecutor will move to dismiss the charges.

The full memorandum can be read here.

Hanover County

In Hanover County, Commonwealth's Attorney R.E. "Trip" Chalkley spoke to CBS 6 News about his stance on the issue.

Chalkley said it is not a policy change that he is considering.

He explained that he is a part of the executive branch of government and he took an oath to enforce the laws, not make or change them. He said that as long as laws are on the books, he will continue to enforce them.

Henrico County

In Henrico County, Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon Taylor said her office reached an agreement with judges in the county in the summer of 2018 that her office will not be seeking to jail people for simple possession for the first two offenses.

"We have had conversations with our judges about the notion of not incarcerating, not jailing people for first and second possession marijuanas. There's laws on the books that allow the first time offense to be taken under advisement," " said Taylor. "We certainly wanted to follow the public's opinion that that is not a crime that should require jail time and I support that concept 100-percent."

"What I think is the most important thing to understand is that we understand and appreciate what certain convictions do to young people and their future," added Taylor, who said she was part of a work group looking to propose a bill for next year's General Assembly that would allow people to get possession of marijuana convictions expunged from their record. "With the idea that knowing that some decisions are made during youthful indiscretion and periods of our lives that we don't want to have...impact our adult lives."

In both Chesterfield and Henrico, the Commonwealth's Attorneys stated that each case is looked at individually and the facts of a case may preclude prosecutors from following the above guidance.

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