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On The Front Lines

Rutherford Institute Weighs in Before Virginia State Crime Commission on the Decriminalization of Simple Marijuana Possession

Charlottesville, Va. — The Rutherford Institute is calling on the Commonwealth of Virginia to reduce the punishment for simple possession of marijuana (less than one-half ounce) to a ticket and fine instead of a misdemeanor offense, which carries with it a criminal record and the possibility of jail time. This would treat marijuana possession as roughly equivalent to a speeding ticket and so sidestep many of the court costs and other repercussions associated with a criminal conviction. In weighing in on the decriminalization of the simple possession of marijuana before the Virginia State Crime Commission, Rutherford Institute attorneys point out that the government’s so-called “war on drugs” ranks as the longest-running, most expensive and least effective effort by the American government. Institute attorneys argue that the government’s (federal, state and local) misguided marijuana prohibition policies are racially and economically discriminatory, while posing a great danger to American citizens and exhausting police resources. It is estimated that marijuana prohibition costs the Commonwealth $246 million a year, including the process of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration.

“The Virginia State Crime Commission’s willingness to consider decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana is particularly significant, coming at a time when a growing number of states are already moving to legalize or decriminalize marijuana possession, and coinciding as it does with polls indicating that increasing numbers of Americans believe the federal government’s ‘war on drugs’—specifically marijuana—to be a failure,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People.  “The nation’s failed war on drugs has ruined countless lives, encouraged the militarization of police forces, fueled the explosive growth of SWAT teams, and eroded our core civil liberties. Decriminalization of the simple possession of marijuana is an important step in the right direction towards a more humane and rational drug policy.”

After more than 40 years and at least $1 trillion, America’s “war on drugs” ranks as the longest-running, most expensive and least effective effort by the American government. Every 30 seconds, someone in the U.S. is arrested for violating a marijuana law. Today, roughly half of all drug arrests are for simple marijuana possession. Marijuana possession laws are disproportionately enforced against African-Americans, who are 3.7 times more likely than whites to be arrested for using marijuana. This is so despite the fact that both groups use marijuana at similar rates. Studies also show that decriminalization results in reduced drug usage.

In calling for Virginia to decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana, Rutherford Institute attorneys pointed out that decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana would significantly free up resources for law enforcement to pursue more serious crimes, increase economic opportunities by destigmatizing simple possession, and ameliorate racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana law. Currently, a marijuana conviction can have numerous negative repercussions even if no jail time resulted from the offense. In many cases, a marijuana conviction can harm a person’s ability to get a job, get insurance, a mortgage, public housing, or student financial aid.