More people were arrested in Virginia last year for marijuana violations than in any other time in nearly two decades, according to data from the Virginia State Police. Local data also show a spike in marijuana arrests.

The new numbers come in the midst of a national debate over marijuana legalization and calls by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and other elected officials for legal reforms.

Statewide, there were 28,866 marijuana arrests in 2018, a 3.6% increase over 2017 and more than three times the arrests in 1999, when 9,036 state arrests were recorded.

Prince William County Police Marijuana Arrests

Prince William County police arrested 58.5% more people in 2018 for marijuana violations compared to arrests made five years ago. In 2018, the police department arrested 2,232 people for marijuana violations compared to 1,408 people arrested for marijuana violations in 2014. 

Sgt. Jonathan Perok, spokesperson for the county police department, said the department’s arrests were lower in general in 2015 and 2016 because the department experienced low staffing numbers during that period. Staffing levels have improved since then, he said, which could be part of the reason why marijuana violations arrests have increased in recent years. 

Herring, who is planning to run for governor in 2021,  publicly called for the decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana in June. He also said wants the state to address past convictions for possession with an overall goal of legalizing and regulating marijuana use. 

Herring said marijuana possession convictions impact future employment and student aid, along with certain public benefits like housing assistance.

Noting an estimated cost of $81 million, Herring said in a news release that the cost of enforcing marijuana laws is too expensive.

“It is time for Virginia to embrace a better, smarter, and fairer approach to cannabis,” Herring said. 

In calling for a more fair approach to marijuana, Herring said African Americans comprised 46% of all first offense possession arrests from 2007 to 2016 despite African Americans comprising 20% of Virginia’s population and despite studies that show marijuana usage rates are comparable between African Americans and white Americans.

According to state law, possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor that can be punished by a fine of up to $500 and 30 days in jail. A second or subsequent marijuana possession violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor, with up to a $2,500 fine and a year in jail.

Comparing Marijuana Arrests in Northern Virginia

Candidates to be Prince William County’s commonwealth’s attorney are hearing about marijuana reforms from voters.

“I have been very surprised on the campaign trail on the amount of people who have talked to me about marijuana and the legalization of it,” said Democrat Amy Ashworth. “I have had senior citizens ask me about it. This is an issue that is certainly on the horizon that I think the legislature needs to take up as we see the tide changing across the country.” 

Ashworth said she’d look to divert the majority of first offense of marijuana possession and would consider on a case by case basis the second or subsequent offenses for marijuana possession. 

By informally diverting the cases so defendants complete a substance abuse class or community service, Ashworth said she would seek to dismiss charges so they wouldn’t end up on somebody’s criminal record. 

“There are a lot of violent and serious crimes that need to be addressed in Prince William County,” Ashworth said. “The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office doesn’t have unlimited resources and I believe we should be focusing on those crimes that cause the most harm. Additionally, marijuana is one of those crimes that historically disproportionately affected poor people, African Americans and people of color.”

Republican candidate Mike May said he would formally divert first offenses of marijuana possession cases, and wouldn’t seek jail time for second or subsequent possession of marijuana charges. 

Under formal diversion, the defendant is required to complete probation, among other commitments, but the charge would still be on the defendant’s criminal record. 

“The legislature has to wrestle with whether it should be decriminalized or legalized; that’s beyond the purview of the Commonwealth’s Attorney,” May said. 

May said the General Assembly also should allow criminal charges to be expunged if the defendant completes the formal diversion process. 

“We have to follow the law, and possession of marijuana remains unlawful in Virginia despite the fact that there are conversations going on in the community, state and nation, and attitudes about marijuana are continuing to evolve,” May said. “I think the legislature has to be a part of the solution to this issue, because they will have to be the ones to decriminalize or outright legalize it.” 

Though he couldn’t find enough support in the House, Del. Lee Carter, D-50th, introduced a bill to eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana possession for those are at least 21 years old. 

Since February 2015, those who are at least 21 years old may legally possess 2 ounces or less of marijuana in Washington, D.C. There are still laws against selling marijuana, operating a vehicle under the influence and consuming marijuana in a public space. 

(13) comments


its bull to harm someones future because of weed whats that say about the police?


So, if an individual knows there is a law against it but uses marijuana anyway then gets arrested it is the arresting police officer that harmed or ruined the individuals future. Nothing the individual did contributed to the situation." Standby California Virginia is on it's way...


I think I will rob a bank tomorrow, it SHOULD be legal....using a DEAMONcratic mind set. Laws should matter to all. BUT it DOESN'T.


Another reason I don't have community policing in my neighborhood, together with the police earning mega overtime serving and protecting bars and being present at special events and festivals.


If Virginia ever legalizes marijuana it will probably be the 49th state to do so. Only PA will wait longer. I have cancer from Agent Orange, the doctors at GWU Hospital offered me a prescription for marijuana but I would have had to stay in DC with it. I live in Woodbridge so if I bring it across the bridge into Virginia I’m no longer a cancer patient, I’m a drug dealer! So I get it illegally and I stay alive.


Well the Democrats are planning on turning the county into a sanctuary for illegal aliens next year anyway, so they might as well let its legal citizens break some laws too.


If marijuana were legal in Arlington the cops would have to find another excuse not to engage in community policing, besides serving and protecting bars and restaurants in Clarendon and earning huge amounts of overtime at special events and festivals.


We need to stop filling up our prisons with non-violent offenders. As Amy Ashworth said, there are other ways to mitigate 1st time offenses.


Mike, How about DO NOT BREAK the law? Don't like the law, CHANGE IT FIRST.


How about you give up your guns because the 2nd amendment states that you can bear arms in a "WELL REGULATED MILITIA" but you don't like to be inconvenienced with laws that apply to you, right?


The plain language of the 2nd Amendment makes it clear the right is for the individual, the individual to compose one of the members in a "well regulated militia" upon call by the relevant civil authorities. In Virginia, the official state militia prescribed by law is the Virginia Defense Force (which not many people are aware exists). Well-regulated refers to the regularization of equipment and tactics, not gun control laws. The US Supreme Court has already ruled the amendment protects a pre-existing individual right. The VA Supreme Court has ruled the VA constitutional protections for firearm ownership are co-extensive with the Federally protected right. Even without the 2nd amendment, the right to own a firearm would be constitutionally protected by the 10th amendment. The right to self-preservation is an inviolable human right.


Legalization in Virginia would bring in a ton of money for the state through taxation, increase jobs and get people out of the prison system that should not be there. Legalize Virginia!


Marijuana is already easy for young kids to get a hold of. The second these kids make it to high school it's easy to acquire once you associate yourself with all the wrong people. The police really don't do much enforcement as it stands, not in PWC anyways. The lack of law enforcement doesn't stop at Marijuana though, but that's more a result of our current "feel good" police chief. But I digress. If people want to smoke up, I really don't care. But you better not drive, you better not do it next to me so I have to smell that garbage, and you better not be carrying a gun on your side while you're doing it either. If you're a public safety employee or work in a sensitive position legalization will never apply to you. Don't sell that junk to kids, and those who do should go away for 20 to life in my opinion. Just as long as the ground rules are established and everyone understands that using these drugs is a serious responsibility we'll be good. Unfortunately, I fear the vast majority of those looking to smoke this stuff aren't all that responsible in the first place (save for a few who really are sick and ought to have the ability to do what they need to mitigate their pain).

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