Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring this week participated in “Legalize It: The Path to Cannabis Equity in Virginia” and spoke about the importance of legal and regulated adult cannabis use in Virginia as a matter of public safety, justice, equity, and economic opportunity. The Attorney General’s conversation “Legalize It: The Path to Cannabis Equity in Virginia” was part of a larger summit being put on by Virginia NORML and the Tom Tom Foundation about the future of marijuana legalization in Virginia.
“We have a real opportunity now to bring equitable cannabis legalization to the Commonwealth and we have all the tools and information at our disposal to make sure that we come up with the best plan for Virginia that meets our public safety and equity goals,” said Herring. “My office can bring a unique perspective and play an integral role in helping with this process through our focus on consumer protection, acting as counsel for state agencies, and our experiences with criminal justice reforms to make sure that we come up with an suitable plan. I look forward to working with Virginia NORML and our other partners in the House, the Senate and other advocacy groups as we move Virginia ever closer on our path towards legalization.”
Herring highlighted the unique role that the Office of the Attorney General will play in helping with the cannabis legalization process in Virginia. He noted that his office has been charged with protecting consumers and the knowledge that role brings can be leveraged to make sure that the industry is safe through proper regulations, make sure that products are being advertised accurately, and make sure that Virginians know what they are getting. He also noted that the Office of the Attorney General’s role as counsel to state agencies will also benefit and guide any new agencies that are created to handle the cannabis industry. Additionally, Attorney General Herring discussed the unique perspective his office has in helping with the criminal justice aspects of whatever plan Virginia decides to implement.
During the 2020 General Assembly Session, Attorney General Herring helped successfully decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, after he become the leader on cannabis reform in Virginia following his call for decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, action to address past convictions, and a move towards legal and regulated adult use. In his call for cannabis reform, he cited the unnecessary negative impact of a criminal conviction for possession, the expense and social costs of enforcing the current system, and the disparate impact on African Americans and people and communities of color.
Herring reiterated his call for reform when data from 2018 showed a record number of arrests for marijuana possession. In the last decade the number of first-time marijuana convictions in Virginia has risen 53 percent, from 6,533 in 2008 to 10,000 in 2017. Arrests for marijuana possession have increased about 220%, from around 9,000 in 1999 to nearly 29,000 in 2018. The cost of marijuana criminal enforcement is estimated to exceed $81 million each year. In December 2019, Herring held a cannabis summit for policymaking stakeholders in Virginia that focused on policy and included experts from attorneys generals’ offices, state agencies and legislative operations in states that have legalized cannabis, as well as cannabis policy experts.