Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Virginia's Misguided War on Marijuana

In my November, 2015, column in VEER Magazine I noted that changes in Virginia's marijuana laws over the next two years were unlikely and looked at the way in which archaic marijuana laws were causing Virginia's prisons to burst at their seams:

What does all of this portent for Virginia with respect to reform of the marijuana laws?  Most likely nothing will occur during the next two years given the Republican Party control of the House of Delegates.  Sadly, most members of the Virginia GOP must swear fealty to The Family Foundation which not only opposes changes to the marijuana laws but would ban all gambling, including the Virginia Lottery, and ban alcohol sales.  What is unfortunate is that doing nothing means another 40,000+ Virginians will have arrest records for marijuana offenses, with blacks being disproportionately impacted. 

In 2012, the year for which the most recent data is available, there were 23,423 marijuana related arrests in Virginia, 20,914 for possession and 2,509 for selling marijuana.  Under § 18.2-250.1, Code of Virginia, possession of marijuana is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine up to $500 for the first offense and up to one year in jail and a fine up to $2,500 for subsequent offenses.  Under § 18.2-248.1, the delivery or sale of one-half ounce of marijuana or less is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $2,500. For greater than one-half ounce, the penalties increase to a possible 1 - 10 years in prison and a fine up to $2,500.  Is there any wonder why our jails and prisons are overflowing?  Wake up!

From what I have observed, the police seem to disproportionately target blacks, especially young black males, the majority of whom cannot afford legal counsel.  White defendants who appear with legal counsel typically get off with suspended sentences which are dismissed after a year of good conduct.  Black males without counsel typically get convicted and thereafter have permanent criminal records which are impediments to many employment opportunities.  Meanwhile, conservatives and Republicans whine about the poor - read blacks - not being gainfully employed, yet Virginia's outdated marijuana laws help to insure these types of criminal convictions will bar gainful employment.

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