Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring tweeted last week that it is time for the state “to move toward legal, regulated adult use” of cannabis. Herring’s tweet included a link to a University of Mary Washington poll that found 61 percent of Virginians supported legalizing cannabis.
In 2017, a poll by the university found just 31 percent favored cannabis legalization.
It’s the second time this year Virginia’s top cop has come out in favor of cannabis law reforms – in a June op-ed in the Daily Press, Herring said prohibition “is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions” and called for broad decriminalization.
Herring pointed to state crime data that shows low-level cannabis arrests in the state rose dramatically from 2003 to 2017, from 13,000 to 28,000. The number of first-time cannabis convictions also spiked from 6,500 in 2008 to 10,000 in 2017, Herring said, adding that prosecutions and incarcerations associated with cannabis criminalization cost the state $81 million annually “in addition to the staggering human and social costs.”
Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat who included cannabis law reforms in his campaign platform, has maintained his position on decriminalization. There are at least two cannabis legalization bills in the Legislature; last year, however, lawmakers defeated two bills that would have decriminalized cannabis in the state.
Del. Steve Heretick (D), a former federal prosecutor and former president of the Virginia Board of Medicine who introduced the failed decriminalization bill last year, told the Virginian-Pilot that he plans on introducing a tax-and-regulate measure next session. Heretick did tell the Virginian-Pilot that he doesn’t think that the state is ready for legalization “today” but that “it’s coming,” which is why he filed the bill. Heretick said he also plans on introducing a decriminalization measure – which has already been defeated four times in the state.
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