Marijuana-related arrests in Virginia have risen steadily in recent years – increasing an estimated 25 percent since 2016. The overwhelming majority of arrests are for possession-related offenses, and over half of those arrested are under 24 years of age.
"Voter attitudes are no longer reflected in state law," says NORML's Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML. "Marijuana arrests in Virginia have skyrocketed to a 20-year high, and in stark contrast to the year-over-year national trend downward. The Commonwealth now spends over $100M annually enforcing marijuana prohibition, at time when over three quarters of Virginians favor fines not crimes for simple possession and six in ten support legalizing and regulating responsible adult-use."
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring agrees. "While other states are moving to a more sensible approach to cannabis, Virginia is still moving in the wrong direction. It makes absolutely no sense," said Herring. "Marijuana arrests are now at their highest level in at least two decades and maybe ever, meaning that even more Virginians, especially young people and people of color, are being saddled with criminal records that can drastically affect their lives. Now is the time to put a stop to this costly, unfair, and ineffective approach, and to pursue a better, smarter, fairer course."
Under state law, first-time possession offenders face up to 30 days in jail and a criminal record. Subsequent offenses are punishable by up to one-year in prison.
Senate legislation introduced earlier this year to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession offenses was rejected by members of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee – with all Republicans voting against the measure. House companion legislation was similarly rejected along party lines.