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Letter to the Editor: Marijuana Should be Decriminalized in Virginia

An Arlington resident recently wrote to the Virginia State Crime Commission during the ongoing Request for Written Content period in support of marijuana decriminalization. This issue was considered in the state legislature earlier this year, resulting in a study by the Virginia State Crime Commission.

The resident shared his letter, below, with ARLnow.com for publication. The resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, states that decriminalization could save the state money, keep non-violent offenders out of jail and allow police to focus on more serious crime.

Dear Virginia State Crime Commission,

Thank you all for your hard work on studying this critical issue of whether current marijuana laws are appropriate. The prohibition of marijuana has undoubtedly caused a myriad of unfortunate consequences. Among them the incarceration of many, but disproportionately minorities, for non-violent transgressions. Virginia has severe racial disparities in its arrest rates as well. It’s shocking that one in ten African American males in their 30s are in jail or prison on any given day.

Our state boasts long and punitive sentencing guidelines for simple possession of marijuana. Incarceration often produces hardened criminals. The absence of  compassionate rehabilitation for those who would welcome treatment for drug abuse is inhumane.

Recidivism is an enormous problem in the US. Nearly 68 out of every 100 prisoners are rearrested within three years. Educational and career opportunities are lost due to having a criminal record for a minor offense. The lack of lawful opportunities further encourages the vicious cycle of recidivism.

The Commonwealth of Virginia spends far too much on enforcement and incarceration for marijuana-related crimes in Virginia. According to Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, “Virginia spends $67 million on marijuana enforcement, which is enough to open another 13,000 pre-K spots for kids.”

Our state spends more than $25,000 per inmate, at an annualized cost of approximately $1.5 billion. With a budget shortfall of $266 million per year, and a potential savings of at least $67 million for just reducing marijuana enforcement, the math is clear. Virginia cannot afford to continue down this path of investigating, arresting and incarcerating non-violent marijuana offenders.

Decriminalization has a positive effect, by reducing law enforcement spending on marijuana to better prioritize resources on serious crime. Lowering the unaffordable and unsustainable cost of our prison system, improving our state’s budget deficit and improving trust in law enforcement.

Obviously marijuana should not be used by developing children and adolescents. However, adults in the privacy of their own home should not have to fear legal repercussions for an activity that seems to cause no serious harm, especially in comparison to alcohol or tobacco, both of which are legal.

In closing, I ask that the State Crime Commission takes in to consideration not just the present, but the future. Virginia is respected as a bellwether for legislation by other, nearby states, including North Carolina, which has already decriminalized simple possession of marijuana.

Decriminalizing marijuana would send a powerful signal to our other neighbors and bring Virginia in to alignment with 22 other states who have done the same. We owe it to our fellow Virginians to give our laws a second look and determine if the the punishment really and truly does fit the crime.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

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