While some states have legalized recreational marijuana and other states have decriminalized possession, arrests in Virginia rose last year to the highest level in a decade. People convicted of a first offense are not sent to jail but face other serious consequences.
Arrests for marijuana possession in Virginia had been falling, but last year they rose to nearly 28,000. Experts offer several possible explanations. Some note marijuana is legal in Washington, D.C., so visitors from Virginia can easily buy the drug and bring it home. Others say the national trend toward liberalizing marijuana laws leads people to be more cavalier – carrying it in their pockets and smoking in public places. Whatever the reason, convictions can lead to fines, suspension of a driver’s license and other onerous consequences.
“People are often required to attend substance abuse counseling for many, many months, report for urinalysis, regardless of job or childcare situations, and they must complete community service,” explains Jenn Michelle Pedini.
Pedini is with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. With 57% of Americans now favoring legalization, her group is keeping fingers crossed for the next Congressional election.
“The marijuana midterms, so they’re called, are coming up this November, and it’s time for voters to be heard and to put folks in office who want to take action once they’re there,” she says.
Virginia’s legislature will also consider a bill to decriminalize weed when it meets in January and will likely pass new rules governing the production and sale of medical marijuana.
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