Virginia AG: Decriminalize marijuana possession, shift to legal and regulated use

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring wants to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and those who were previously convicted for having the drug as well as eventually legalizing and regulating its use in the Commonwealth.

Herring made the case against criminalizing minor marijuana possession and eventually legalizing its use in an op-ed published in Sunday's Daily Press.

Herring argued the state's current policy is "needlessly creating criminals" and in turn burdening Virginians with convictions.

In fact, the attorney general's office pointed out that first time marijuana convictions have risen 53% -- from 6,533 in 2008 to 10,000 in 2017 -- over the past decade.

In addition, marijuana possession have skyrocketed 115% from around 13,000 in 2003 to nearly 28,000 in 2017, officials said.

Additionally, the cost of criminal enforcement is estimated at $81 million a year.

"The human and social costs are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it costs Virginia taxpayers," Herring wrote. "And the negative consequences of the current approach fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color."

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, according to the Virginia Crime Commission,

“We can’t avoid the conversation any longer, especially when our current system continues to saddle Virginians with convictions and even jail time, and black Virginians at a strikingly disproportionate rate,” Herring wrote. “It is time for Virginia to embrace a better, smarter, and fairer approach to cannabis."

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