The total number of marijuana-related marijuana arrests declined more than eight percent from 2018 to 2019, according to annual data compiled by the Virginia State Police.
State law enforcement officials recorded 26,470 arrests for marijuana violations in 2019, down from 28,866 in 2018. Marijuana-related arrests comprised 57 percent of all drug-related arrests recorded in 2019. Approximately half of those arrested for cannabis violations were age 24 or younger.
Under state law first-time possession offenders face up to 30 days in jail and a criminal record. Subsequent offenses are punishable by up to one-year in prison. Those penalties change on July 1, 2020 when the state’s newly enacted marijuana decriminalization law takes effect. Under the new law, offenses involving personal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana are a civil violation – punishable by a maximum $25 fine, no arrest, and no criminal record.
The year-over-year decline in marijuana arrests marks a reversal in policing trends. Between 2016 and 2018, marijuana-related arrests rose 25 percent in the state. Historically, African Americans have been arrested in Virginia for violating cannabis laws at more than three times the rates of Caucasians.
NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of the state affiliate chapter, Virginia NORML, welcomed the change in enforcement priorities. “It is a positive sign that after years of heightened enforcement, we’re now seeing a downward trend in marijuana-related arrests in Virginia. Following the enactment of decriminalization on July 1, we expect to see an even more drastic reduction in these arrests — arrests that, historically, have disproportionately impacted the poor, the young, and people of color.”