Herring Calls For Marijuana Decriminalization

by | Jun 17, 2019 | VIRGINIA POLITICS

In a Daily Press Op-Ed published on Sunday, Virginia’s Attorney General made the case for decriminalizing possession of marijuana.

In a move that pleased cannabis advocates and made headlines around the state, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring wrote an op-ed in Sunday’s Daily Press calling for the decriminalization of “minor marijuana possession.”

“Virginia should decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, address past convictions and start moving toward legal and regulated adult use,” Herring wrote in the op-ed.

Herring cited a massive increase in arrests and first-time convictions for marijuana possession in Virginia between 2008 and 2017. According to Herring, arrests have increased 115 percent, from 13,000 in 2008 to 28,000 in 2017, while first-time marijuana convictions have risen in the same time period from 6,500 to 10,000.

He also pointed out that those affected by arrest and prosecution for marijuana possession are disproportionately African-Americans and people of color. “The Virginia Crime Commission found that African Americans comprised 46% of all first offense possession arrests from 2007 to 2016, despite comprising just 20% of Virginia’s population and despite studies consistently showing that marijuana usage rates are comparable between African Americans and white Americans,” Herring wrote in the op-ed.

As Attorney General, Herring’s position at the state level won’t have an impact on prosecutions, which take place at the level of local government. He did praise Commonwealth’s Attorneys who have made moves to reduce the number of marijuana possession cases moving through the courts, but said that “locality-by-locality action is no substitute for a rational, unified statewide policy.”

In order to make any sort of practical change on this level, Herring will need his cause to be taken up by members of the General Assembly. The state legislature, which has been Republican-controlled for nearly a decade, has previously blocked any attempts to reform the commonwealth’s marijuana laws. However, Delegate Steve Heretick of Virginia’s 79th District, which includes parts of Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Chesapeake, told 13NewsNow that he intended to introduce legislation to decriminalize simple marijuana possession in the 2020 General Assembly session.

“Over 36 states and U.S. territories have regulated marijuana use by adults, so Virginia is not new to this,” Heretick said to 13NewsNow. “We have been looking at criminalization and legalization for some time now.”

Jenn Michelle Pedini, who is the Executive Director of the Virginia chapter of NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws), saw Herring’s statement as a positive and helpful step.

“The public’s response to Attorney General Herring’s statement not only supporting decriminalizing but legalizing and regulating adult use of marijuana has been overwhelmingly positive,” Pedini told 13NewsNow. “What this does is moves this issue to the front burner of Virginia politics.”

In November, all 140 members of the Virginia General Assembly will face elections. With Republican control of both houses held by an extremely narrow margin (21-19 in the Virginia Senate, 51-49 in the House Of Delegates), Democrats will be working hard to gain control and have an opportunity to pass a variety of legislation long blocked by Republican lawmakers. If Democrats do regain control of the General Assembly, it seems very likely that marijuana reform will be one of the first issues on the docket.

And for Herring, it’s high time. “We can’t avoid the conversation any longer,” he wrote in the Daily Press. “It is time for Virginia to embrace a better, smarter, and fairer approach to cannabis.”

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

Former GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.

more in politics

There Will Be No Casino: The Lessons of November 7th, 2023

It’s over. Again. Richmond beat back the ghouls of predatory greed and political prostitution. After a battle, all seems eerily quiet. The quiet unsettles if not followed by the housekeeping of the battlefield - damage reports need filing, and new plans need...

Who Are We Becoming?

Voting No Casino & Reclaiming a Radical Vision of Solidarity & Economic Freedom Amidst a Divisive Casino Campaign Over the weekend, I learned that one of the owners of the proposed casino who is also one of the most powerful Black women in America, Cathy...

What Virginia College Students Need to know About Voting

This story is for subscribers to VCU’s Capital News Service. If you have questions or comments, please contact Alix Bryan at bryaneg@vcu.edu or 804-921-0114. RICHMOND, Va. – College-aged people are among the largest voting block, yet tend to have the lowest turnout in...

Labor Peace or Lawsuits?

This piece is one in a series of opinion pieces by Jon Baliles about the proposed Richmond Grand Resort and Casino. You can read his other pieces HERE. The casino advocates made a big deal about their labor peace agreement that was reached with the Washington,...

Make It Impossible to Happen Again

This piece is one in a series of opinion pieces by Jon Baliles about the proposed Richmond Grand Resort and Casino. You can read his other pieces HERE. The Richmond Times-Dispatch Editorial Board and reporters sat down this week with the casino opponents who said the...

Resorts Like Airports

There has been a lot of boasting from the casino advocates about their partnership with Kentucky-based Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI). The rebranded Richmond Grand casino developer Urban One is a radio and TV conglomerate that has said they are partnering with CDI...

Pin It on Pinterest