RICHMOND, Va. -- Arrests on marijuana-related charges have fallen dramatically this summer in and around Virginia’s capital since a new law legalized possession of small amounts of pot and residents keeping a few cannabis plants, according to a newspaper report.
Twenty-five marijuana-related arrests occurred in Richmond and in Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties in the first seven weeks after the law took effect July 1, compared to 257 arrests during the same period last year, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported, citing local law enforcement data.
“A 90% reduction in marijuana arrests indicates that the public policy is performing as intended and in a manner that is consistent with post-legalization observations from other states,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of the Virginia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
The law legalized possession by adults age 21 and over of up to 1 ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of four pot plants per household, among other decriminalization provisions. Selling marijuana remains illegal until the state lauches a regulated market in 2024 and issues licenses. A regulatory board will help carry out the details.
Marijuana enforcement hasn’t been a high priority for Richmond’s police department, during a time of high numbers of shootings and slayings, the newspaper reported.
Richmond “officers are focused on the evolving needs of our communities to include gun violence, homicides, theft from motor vehicles, and reducing occurrences of residential burglaries and robberies,” city police Chief Gerald Smith said in a statement.
The large majority of marijuana arrests in the region since the law took effect has been in Chesterfield, where police have charged or issued summonses to 20 people. Still, marijuana arrests there have dropped 86%.
Chesterfield County Police Chief Jeffrey Katz says how the legislature fashioned the new law was “poor public policy.”
“There’s no public marketplace for anyone to go purchase what they made legal, and that means that in order for someone to possess marijuana, they either have to grow it themselves or purchase it from a street-level drug dealer - and that’s what we’re seeing,” Katz said. He posted a Facebook message in late June warning residents about the nuances in the law, along with a short video on the provisions.
State law governing possession with intent to distribute marijuana remains a felony offense. At least six of the people charged locally since July 1 are facing felonies for distributing or possessing with the intent to distribute marijuana.