Virginia’s Attorney General’s office has noticed a troubling trend in marijuana possession arrests. They are increasing at an alarming rate, sending many to prison that Attorney General Mark Herring himself says do not belong there. After studying the numbers, he now believes decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana is the answer.
The Attorney General’s office has reviewed the numbers, and it is clear that possession arrests are skyrocketing. Between the years of 2008 and 2017, first-time marijuana convictions increased by 53 percent. Going back even further, arrests for marijuana possession have increased by 115 percent from 2003 to 2017. The jump is unsettling, and certainly shows a need for change in the state.
“People are getting caught with very small amounts of marijuana, and being sent to jail for it in some cases,” says Thomas Soldan, Attorney at Law. “Sometimes, the amount is as little as ten dollars worth of marijuana, yet the person is still convicted. It needs to stop, and this plea from the Attorney General is a positive step forward.”
Not surprisingly, like with so many crimes, possession charges are also disproportionally targeting those in minorities. Between the years of 2007 and 2016, African Americans made up almost half of first-offense possession arrests. This is despite the fact that these individuals make up less than 25 percent of Virginia’s population.
In addition to people of color, those with lower incomes are also more likely to face marijuana possession charges. This is because law enforcement must have probable cause for pulling a driver over. That probable cause can be something as minor as a broken taillight. Those that do not have a high income may not get these minor repairs on their vehicle fixed right away. The result is that they get pulled over, and the officer then finds marijuana in their car.
Attorney General Herring does not only want to decriminalize marijuana possession, though. He is hoping that this will be the first step in legalizing the drug for adult use throughout the state. If these laws changed, it would even further reduce the number of arrests and convictions throughout the state.