Every movement start with a step. Every step is preceded by taking a stand.
On Tuesday, March 7 at 6 p.m., Decriminalize Virginia Beach will take a stand before the Virginia Beach City Council as a first step towards decriminalizing marijuana for adult personal possession, and to further the marijuana reform movement here in Virginia. There are three reasons this important issue must be addressed by our elected leaders here in Virginia Beach as well as the General Assembly.
Reduce Arrest and Criminalization of Residents
Every year, the Virginia Beach Police Department publishes a crime statistics report that summarizes the activities of the police in the prior year. In 2015, Drug Violations account for nearly 2,000 arrests, making it one of the most common causes of arrest in Virginia Beach, just behind Simple Assault and Driving under the Influence. Marijuana is by far the most used illegal substance; at least half of the drug arrests in Virginia Beach are likely Marijuana-related arrests.
With the current criminalization of possession, every arrest results in a permanent criminal record, a drug offense, no less, which carries social stigma and a variety of collateral consequences that are rarely made know during sentencing. Saddling hundreds of Virginia Beach Residents, including juveniles and young adults, the law is limiting the economic and social opportunities provided to the people who are labeled as drug criminals.
Decrease Law Enforcement Costs
According to a 2015 Cost of Jail report from the Commonwealth, Virginia Beach spends $72.49 total expenditures per inmate per day! Even with a short sentence of ten days, this is over $700.00 cost to the Virginia Beach government. A 30-day sentence elevates the cost into the thousands, for a single inmate. This is not counting the time and resources spent by police in responding to marijuana-related calls.
The economic cost to the government, not to mention the person arrested, is simply not worth the possible gains of preventing someone from consuming marijuana. While the government can choose to continue its prohibition of marijuana, it is imperative that it do so in a way that is responsible fiscally and socially.
Fiscally, it would be more beneficial to have escalating civil fines, much like a traffic ticket, that will only result in criminal sanctions and records after repeated violations. Additionally, removing the harsh criminal penalties associated with marijuana possession will preserve the economic and social opportunities for those who violate the prohibition, while still imposing a monetary punishment.
One Small Step Toward Legalization
Decriminalization is not the end goal, but the first step towards rational regulations and legalization of marijuana. The eventual legalization of marijuana will end the stream of offenders incarcerated, released, excluded from society and the economy because of past crimes, and then re-entering the criminal justice system for similar offenses. The transfer of marijuana from an illegal market to the legal economy will allow entrepreneurs to grow a new industry in a Commonwealth known for its agricultural products like cotton and tobacco. Lastly, the exposure to the illegal market associated with purchasing illegal marijuana will end, ending the most common source of heroin exposure for young adults, an epidemic facing all parts of our country.
Virginia Beach City Council should do two things: request the decriminalization of marijuana in their legislative request packet to the General Assembly for the 2018 legislative session, and deprioritize the arrest of adults merely possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Decriminalize Virginia is taking a stand on this issue. Will you?