Stakeholders react to state report on decriminalizing marijuana

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — According to the Virginia State Crime Commission, over the past ten years there have been more than 133,000 arrests for possession of marijuana.

84 percent of those were for a first offense. Supporters for decriminalizing possession say convictions are currently costing the state millions in tax dollars.

“We know that Virginia spends around $70 million every year arresting and prosecuting around 22,000 Virginians for marijuana possession,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini with Virginia NORML.

The group has been advocating for decriminalization. Pedini says there are also collateral costs such as lost income for those convicted who lose their license.

“About 40 percent of low-income defendants will lose their jobs when they lose their license,” said Pedini.

But critics like Chesterfield Substance Abuse Free Environment (SAFE) say the costs could be even greater if marijuana is decriminalized.

They pointed to a study conducted by a federal drug control group in Colorado which looked at the impact of legalizing marijuana in Colorado. The study found an increase in use among middle and high schoolers. While decriminalizing would not legalize marijuana in Virginia, SAFE says it will lead to increased use and would eventually put the state on a path to legalization.

Currently, Senate majority leader Tommy Norment says he plans on introducing a decriminalization bill in the upcoming session that would remove jail time as a punishment for possession, but would still maintain license suspensions, and mandatory rehab.

“Like anything in Virginia, even incremental progess is a step forward and is something that we can absolutely celebrate,” said Pedini.

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