Marijuana-related arrests increased over 20 percent between the years 2016 and 2017, according to crime data compiled by the Virginia State Police.
Law enforcement officials made 27,852 arrests for marijuana violations, according to the report – up from 21,637 in 2016. At that time, Virginia ranked sixth in the nation for total marijuana arrests, and fifteenth overall in per capita marijuana arrests.
Overall, some 70 percent of all drug arrests in Virginia in 2017 were marijuana related.
Under state law, the possession of any amount of cannabis is defined as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a criminal record. A bill introduced during the 2017 legislative session that sought to decriminalize minor marijuana possession offenses was defeated in committee in January on a party line vote, with all Republicans voting against the bill.
“Eight out of ten Virginians support decriminalization, fines not crimes, for possession of small amounts of marijuana,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML. “This drastic increase in arrests is completely out of step with public opinion. Law enforcement resources would be better directed towards preventing and solving violent crimes with the passage of a decriminalization bill.”
Polling data compiled by Quinnipiac University finds that 59 percent of Virginians support allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
According to the findings of a 2017 Virginia Commonwealth University report, African Americans in Virginia are arrested for violating marijuana possession laws at a rate that is more than three times the rate of whites.