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Herring Tee’s Up Plans To Legalize Marijuana in Virginia With Day-long Summit

Attorney General Mark Herring brought together a room full of state lawmakers, policy experts, and law enforcement Wednesday to explore how Virginia might eventually legalize marijuana. 

Virginia’s new Democratic majority is expected to take some action on marijuana during the 2020 General Assembly session. Republicans previously blocked legislation to relax pot laws.

Herring said lawmakers should start by decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana and addressing past convictions.

“I’ve seen so many, especially young people, their future opportunities limited by an arrest or conviction for possession of small amounts of marijuana,” he said. “Those convictions stay with you your entire life and they limit your future employment opportunities, education opportunities, they can even impact access to some public assistance or even custody issues.”

Ultimately, Herring said the state should permit and regulate adult recreational pot use in Virginia. He invited officials from Colorado and Illinois, states that have legalized marijuana, to offer their insite at the day-long summit.

“Giving us the benefit of their experiences is going to be really good for Virginia as we put our plan together,” Herring said. “And I’m really hopeful and confident that we’re able to take those steps in this upcoming session.”

Virginia could also learn from states that have passed laws either fully or partially decriminalizing certain marijuana possession offenses, like Maryland.

Major Neill Franklin retired from law enforcement after 34 years with the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department. Now he’s executive director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, which advocates for drug policy reforms.Recreational marijuana use is still prohibited in Maryland, but possession of 10 grams or less has been decriminalized.

“We’re starting to see an uptick in possession with intent to distribute cases and arrests being made. And that’s a problem,” Franklin said. That’s an issue we have to solve.

Herring said marijuana convictions in Virginia have risen dramatically over the last few years, more than tripling from 1999 to 2018. He said enforcement largely impacts people of color and costs taxpayers an estimated $81 million dollars every year.

A recent University of Mary Washington poll showed 61% of Virginians support legalized recreational marijuana.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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