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Virginia Attorney General Says Criminalizing Cannabis “Is Not Working”


Even with many states moving to legalize cannabis, there are some who aren’t ready to go that route just yet, but that still realize that criminalization and prohibition are failed endeavors. Last week, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring made a call to action for the state to decriminalize the plant – as well as expunge records, pardon convictions and immediately release those jailed who would otherwise be unaffected after the change in law.  

“This punitive approach costs Virginia taxpayers an estimated $81 million every year, in addition to the staggering human and social costs,” Herring wrote. “And it cannot be ignored that the burden of the current system falls disproportionately on African Americans and people of color.”

This is from an editorial written by the Attorney General for the Daily Press over the weekend. In the article, he pointed out that the Virginia Crime Commission found evidence – the same evidence that has been found everywhere else around the U.S. – that the African American community is disproportionately affected by criminalization efforts. With about 20 percent of the state’s population being African American, there is no logical reason why that community would constitute almost half (46 percent) of first offense marijuana possession arrests.

“That process should begin as soon as possible with decriminalizing simple possession of small amounts of marijuana and taking action to release from jail, pardon and expunge the records of those whose convictions would not have occurred under more rational standards,” Herring wrote.

He added, “This would provide a measure of justice for Virginians who have been hampered by these convictions, while also freeing up important law enforcement resources and increasing trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.”

It’s not as though the state hasn’t made efforts in the past to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis. But after this call for action from the AG, it appears that a surprising number of both Democrats and Republicans are in favor of the change. Though previous efforts haven’t panned out, perhaps having the issue brought to attention in such a public way will give it a better chance at seeing real reform.

“Attorney General Herring’s support for not only decriminalizing but legalizing and regulating adult-use marijuana really moves this important issue to the front burner of Virginia politics,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director, Virginia NORML, an advocacy group that seeks reform of the state’s marijuana ban.

Herring’s suggestions did not end at decriminalization, however. He is advocating further for the laws that would surround how the plant could be sold and taxed, and how to handle concerns like intoxication while driving or in public. Putting it in that perspective, decriminalization should seem much more reasonable to conservative lawmakers. Only time will tell what direction the state of Virginia goes with regard to their policies on cannabis.