RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Will Virginia decriminalize marijuana? It’s an issue that Republicans have resisted for years, which is why it came as a surprise when Senate Majority Leader Republican Tommy Norment voiced his support of decriminalizing marijuana last year.
Norment asked the Virginia Crime Commission to study the issue, which is what they’ve been doing for the past few months. On Monday, the commission presented its findings in front of a packed house.
Some of the key items from the report include questions that would have to be answered if the state does decriminalize marijuana, such as what amount would be a civil vs. a criminal offense? What would be decriminalized? Leaf marijuana, oils edibles?
The report also found that young African-American males are disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests compared to the overall population.
The crime commission pointed to some theories as to why that may be.
“Under this war on drugs, there may be some subconscious bias whereby the officers themselves may not be racially biased but leads them to enforce laws in a certain manner,” Colin Drabert with the Virginia State Crime Commission explained.
Compared to the overall population, supporters said the arrests for simple possession can be extremely damaging, leading to difficulty finding a job and/or housing to loss of financial aid for students.
Meanwhile, critics say decriminalizing marijuana could lead to more kids using drugs and could give police less opportunities to investigate suspects for more serious crimes if they aren’t allowed to use the smell of marijuana as a reason to search someone.
“Decriminalization will reduce the perception of harm and send a message to our youth and young adults that drug use is safe,” suggested Regina Whitsett with Chesterfield SAFE.
From here, lawmakers have three options: They can leave the laws the way they are, remove jail time as a punishment or decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and make it a civil penalty.