Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring called for the decriminalization of marijuana in an op-ed published by the Daily Press on Saturday. The move comes just a week after reformist candidates virtually clinched Commonwealth’s Attorney races in Arlington and Fairfax County by winning the Democratic primary.
In his op-ed, Herring points to the negative consequences convictions can have for offenders. In addition to fines and jail time, consequences of a marijuana arrest can include job loss, a criminal record, loss of student aid, and loss of custody rights. Herring also mentions studies which indicate that African American offenders are disproportionately affected by marijuana related convictions. In addition to negative impacts on offenders, he also brings up the financial “burden” that these arrests place on taxpayers.
By penning the op-ed, Herring joins a growing chorus of Virginia leaders who favor marijuana decriminalization. Last year, Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment Jr (R-James City) proposed marijuana reform legislation that passed the Senate, but then was withdrawn by Norment before it could be voted on by the House. This morning, Democratic nominee for Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano issued a statement in support of Herring’s op-ed, saying, “It’s important that we root out outmoded, ineffective policies.”
In general, voters seem to be in favor of decriminalization. According to a 2018 poll from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, “76 percent of Virginians support decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana.”
While pressure for reform is growing, action may still be a long way off. In his op-ed, Herring argues that a, “move to a more rational cannabis policy won’t necessarily be easy, simple, or fast.” However, he also claims that, “we can’t avoid the conversation any longer.”