ON WEDNESDAY, the Virginia State Crime Commission decided to study the decriminalization of marijuana in Virginia. The commonwealth has one of the most punitive marijuana policies in the United States. Decriminalization of adult marijuana possession is desperately needed.
The decriminalization policy proposed is similar to decriminalized policies of states like Nebraska and Ohio. Decriminalization isn’t full legalization — possession would be subject to a ticket and a fine, but people wouldn’t be arrested or face jail.
In 2015, police arrested 22,428 people for marijuana possession in Virginia. About 90 percent of all misdemeanor drug arrests in Virginia are for marijuana possession. Jail costs taxpayers an average of $79 per day, per inmate — a total of nearly a billion dollars in 2015.
Policies in Hampton and Virginia Beach require prosecutors to focus on homicides, gun crimes and other dangerous crimes, rather than simple marijuana possession.
But arrests of black people for marijuana possession in Virginia have increased drastically since 2003, accounting for 47 percent of all arrests in the commonwealth, even though Virginia’s population is only 20 percent black.
Minorities are nearly three times more likely to be convicted of marijuana offenses than white Virginians, even though the two groups’ usage rates are the same.
Decriminalizing marijuana would allow police, prosecutors and the courts to reallocate their resources toward activities that will better serve the public. Criminalizing these communities drastically reduces the economic and civic possibilities available to them.
Letter to the Editor