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Marijuana Arrests in Virginia Reach Twenty Year High

Emily Hamer
Wisconsin Watch via AP



According to Virginia police, arrests for possessing marijuana are on the rise in the commonwealth. In 2018, almost 30,000 people were impacted. That’s triple the number from the late 90’s. 


There are no studies or data to explain why arrests for marijuana use are still rising despite softening attitudes towards the drug. But Jenn Michelle Pedini has theories. 

“It may be that people are possessing marijuana in their cars more often, which is where the majority of marijuana arrests come from,” Pedini theorizes. “Or it may be heightened enforcement of marijuana possession.” 

Pedini is with the Virginia chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. While any explanations they have are just guesses, they do know Virginia isn’t alone in seeing arrest rates continue to rise. 

“And perhaps it’s just the death rattles of prohibition,” says Pedini. 

Whatever the reason, to reform advocates it just means the best way to reduce arrests is to change the law. 

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, agrees. He’s called for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot. 

“Criminalizing marijuana possession really just does not work. It is needlessly creating criminals and saddling them with arrests and convictions,” Herring said in a recent interview. “It’s costing a lot of money that could be better spent.” 

Virginia spends about $80 million a year enforcing marijuana laws. African-Americans bear the brunt of that, as do Virginians under the age of 24. 

As of this year, the state has a small and restrictive medical cannabis program. State lawmakers have consistently voted against full-scale decriminalization.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Mallory Noe-Payne is Radio IQ's Richmond reporter and bureau chief. She's covered policy and politics from the state capital since 2016. She was a 2020-2021 recipient of the Fulbright Young Journalist Award. She spent a year in Munich, Germany researching memory, justice, and how a society can collectively confront its sins. Her Virginia-based coverage of home healthcare workers, voting rights, and Richmond’s Slave Trail have won national news awards.
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