Virginia: Fairfax County to No Longer Prosecute Low-Level Marijuana Cases

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Alexandria, VA: The prosecutor for Virginia's most populous county, Fairfax (population 1.15 million), has announced that his office will no longer pursue low-level marijuana offenses.

In an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Friday, Fairfax County commonwealth's attorney Steve Descano acknowledged, "I've directed my office to no longer prosecute adults for simple possession of marijuana." Descano said that filing low-level criminal prosecutions "drains county resources," "does not improve community safety," and "disproportionately affects people of color."

African Americans in Virginia are 3.2 times more likely than whites to be arrested for violating marijuana possession laws. Since 2017, Fairfax county police have issued nearly 12,000 arrests or citations for cannabis possession offenses.

Under state law, minor marijuana possession offenses are classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a criminal record. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has stated that decriminalizing low-level cannabis offenses is a 2020 legislative priority.

In recent months, prosecutors in cities across the country, including Baltimore and St. Louis, have announced similar policy changes.

For more information, please visit Virginia NORML.