Marijuana-related possession arrests drop 90% across Virginia – WSLS 10


VIRGINIA – Police officers are on a learning curve now that marijuana is legal in the Commonwealth.

“This is just another area we’ve had to adapt and learn what the expectations of the law are and work within it,” said Danville Police Capt. Steve Richardson.

He said the department’s seen a drastic drop in marijuana-related possession arrests from 16 in August 2019, to nine in August 2020, to zero in August 2021.

Jenn Michelle Pedini, the executive director of Virginia NORML, a marijuana reform advocacy organization, said the numbers aren’t a surprise.

“This drastic reduction in marijuana violations really indicates to us that the public policy is performing as expected,” explained Pedini.

She said national research shows that decriminalizing marijuana leads to a 50% drop in arrests and legalizing marijuana reduces arrests by 90%. Virginia saw a 48% drop in 2020 when marijuana was decriminalized.

Similiar trends can be seen across Virginia.

The Richmond-Times Dispatch reported that Richmond and several surrounding county police departments only had 25 marijuana-related arrests in the first seven weeks after the law took effect, compared to 257 arrests for the same timeframe last year: a 90% drop.

In Salem, there were 12 arrests in August 2019, nine in August 2020 (a 25 percent drop), and zero in August 2021 (down 100 percent).

Richardson said police can no longer search someone’s car if they smell marijuana, which makes it harder for officers to find deadlier drugs like heroin, cocaine or meth.

“Law enforcement agencies adapt and stay within the law and find other ways to continue this fight to get the deadly drugs off the street,” said Richardson.

Still, Pedini said it’s too early to tell whether or not legalizing marijuana has also reduced the disproportionate arrests of people of color.

“Something else worth considering, in addition to the overall reduction in arrests, is how it may impact the disparate enforcement of marijuana laws amongst races,” said Pedini.


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