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Virginia cannabis arrests drop nearly 50% following decriminalization

Marijuana-related arrests only accounted for 46% of all drug related arrests in 2020.

VIRGINIA, USA — Nearly one year after Virginia decriminalized cannabis, marijuana-related arrests have dropped by around 50%, according to the commonwealth's 2020 crime report

The data indicates that there were a total of 13,674 cannabis-related arrests in 2020 compared to 26,470 in 2019. Similarly, the proportion of marijuana-related arrests compared to overall drug arrests decreased from 57% in 2019 to just 46% in 2020. 

The drop is in stark contrast to the nearly 29,000 marijuana arrests made in 2018, which was the state's highest figure in two decades and subsequently sparked calls to reform Virginia's cannabis laws.

Total marijuana seizure incidents also dropped by about 32%, with the report directly crediting decriminalization as the primary reason for this decrease.

Among all cannabis-related arrests, 44% of detainees were between the ages of 18 and 24, the highest among the report's designated age groups.

Virginia's marijuana laws have changed significantly within the last two years.

Credit: AP
FILE - In this Wednesday Nov 18, 2020. file photo, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam gestures during a COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Richmond, Va. Virginia lawmakers are set to start this year’s legislative session focused on COVID-19 relief efforts and legalizing marijuana. The 2021 session will kick off Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021 with lawmakers meeting away from the Capitol as the state continues to wrestle with the impacts of a global pandemic that’s shut down school, closed businesses and left more than 5,000 Virginians dead in last 10 months, including a state senator. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

In April 2020, Gov. Ralph Northam signed House Bill 972 that decriminalized simple cannabis possession and mandated a $25 maximum penalty. 

Northam signed a new law that will legalize recreational cannabis use that goes go into effect on July 1, 2021, which will also make Virginia the first state in the South to have a lawful recreational marijuana industry. 

A 2020 investigation conducted by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) concluded that legalizing recreational cannabis would help close the racial discrepancies surrounding the policing of the substance. 

The report found that Black Virginians were around four times more likely to be arrested and convicted for marijuana use and procession compared to White people.

This most recent crime summary did not provide racial demographics for cannabis-related arrests after decriminalization. 

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