Virginia Attorney General Supports Legalization of Recreational Cannabis

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Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring would like his state to become the latest to move toward marijuana legalization. Herring, a Democrat serving in his second term as Virginia AG and who intends to run for governor of the state in 2021, made his position known in a tweet on Wednesday.

“Virginians know we can do better. It’s time to move toward legal, regulated adult use,” Herring wrote.

The tweet was accompanied by a link to a news story about a poll showing rising support for legalization in the commonwealth.

The survey, conducted earlier this month by the University of Mary Washington, found that 61 percent of Virginians support legalization marijuana for recreational use—up from 39 percent when the school polled the same question only two years ago.

Herring could be telegraphing a major campaign position for his upcoming gubernatorial run—unless the state’s general assembly, which is currently controlled by Republicans, takes up legalization before then. Steve Heretick, a Democrat in Virginia’s house of delegates, said that he intends to file legislation to legalize cannabis next year.

This is Not a New Stance For Herring

Herring had already voiced his support for decriminalizing marijuana. In an op-ed published in June, Herring wrote that “Virginia’s policy of criminalizing minor marijuana possession is not working.”

“It is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions. The human and social costs are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it costs Virginia taxpayers. And the negative consequences of the current approach fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color,” he said. “That is why Virginia should decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, address past convictions and start moving toward legal and regulated adult use.”

It’s a position shared by Virginia’s current governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, who used his state of the commonwealth address earlier this year to speak out against using “valuable law enforcement time, or costly prison space, on laws that don’t enhance public safety.”

“Current law imposes a maximum 30 days in jail for a first offense of marijuana possession,” Northam said in the speech. “Making simple possession a civil penalty will ease overcrowding in our jails and prisons, and free up our law enforcement and court resources for offenses that are a true threat to public safety.”

A bill to decriminalize marijuana fizzled in this year’s legislative session, but polling had already indicated that Virginians are ready for that policy change, too.

The state has considerably expanded its medical marijuana program in recent years, permitting a wider range of full-strength cannabis products to patients.

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