On Wednesday, Virginia attorney general Mark Herring, a Democrat, hosted a day-long summit in the capital city of Richmond, where he made his case for joining the more than dozen states and cities that have lifted pot prohibition.
“Front and center is badly needed reform of our cannabis laws in Virginia. I don’t believe that Virginia’s current system of criminalizing cannabis is working. It is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions. The human and social costs of this are enormous,” Herring said, as quoted by Cannabis Wire.
Herring bolstered his argument by pointing to some statistics. He noted that the number of pot-related arrests in Virginia “more than tripled” between 1999 and 2018, going from 9,000 to 29,000. Herring also pointed to a recent poll showing that more than 60 percent of Virginians support legalization for adults.
“It is clear to me that it is time for a new, smarter approach to cannabis in Virginia. And the question that we’re here to answer today is: what does that look like?” Herring said, according to Cannabis Wire. “To me, the best path forward is to immediately decriminalize possession of small amounts and start moving toward legal regulated adult use.”
Herring, who is running for governor in 2021, announced the summit last month as part of his effort to move legalization through the legislature, where Democrats control both chambers.
Virginians in Favor of Decriminalization
Herring announced his support for legalization in a tweet back in October. In the tweet, he cited the poll he mentioned at the summit on Wednesday. The poll, conducted by the University of Mary Washington, found that 61 percent of Virginians support legalization marijuana for recreational use—up from 39 percent when the school polled the same question only two years ago.
“Virginians know we can do better. It’s time to move toward legal, regulated adult use,” Herring wrote in the tweet.
The summit featured panels and presentations that, among other things, focused on other states like Colorado and Illinois where marijuana has already been legalized for recreational use. It also included remarks by other Virginia lawmakers, including Democratic state Sen. Dave Marsden, who preached caution as the state moves toward legalization.
“What we have to be careful of is that full legalization, or recreational, or whatever you want to call it, that people drift away from this as medicine,” Marsden said, as quoted by Cannabis Wire. “We have to proceed, I think, cautiously. Clearly, we need to do decriminalization.”