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Racial disparities continued to enforce after marijuana was legalized in Virginia

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A year after Virginia lawmakers legalized recreational marijuana in hopes of reducing racial disparities in enforcement, police in the state are still more likely to arrest blacks than whites for marijuana-related offenses, according to a Washington Post analysis.

While marijuana arrests have decreased overall in the year since Virginia became The first country in the south to legalizeBlack adults made up nearly 60 percent of marijuana-related cases before county courts and state public circuits, an analysis of marijuana-related software citations in the state court system concluded, even though blacks account for about 20 percent of the state’s population.

The results echo results seen in other countries and District of Columbiaas state lawmakers across the country increasingly describe rationing as a means of social justice — a The intention of Virginia Democratic lawmakers who were hoping to counteract the toll the country’s war on drugs has taken on black communities. Maryland lawmakers expressed the same hopes for influence when they decided to ask voters if they want to legalize recreational use on the ballot next month. Until now Gaps between intent and execution still remain, with white entrepreneurs making up most of them so far legal market As the black continues The bulk of marijuana-related arrests nationwide.

While racial equality often prompts demands for reform – President Biden announced last week that he would issue a mass pardon to anyone who is convicted Simple federal possession charges as a first step to “correct these wrongs” — cannabis and criminal justice experts said the disparities will remain intractable against the backdrop of broader, unchanging trends in policing.

“Policing practices have not changed,” said John Gettman, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Shenandoah University. “The laws they have to enforce have changed, but the practices haven’t.”

These practices often relate to the structural organization of policing operations and where officers are deployed, and areas where policing is more concentrated, due to an increase in crime or the need for these services, often have more minorities, Gittman said. Law enforcement officials say the changing laws on marijuana are complex and at times difficult to manage.

Inside the “Wild West” of Virginia’s Marijuana Market

The Virginia law allows individuals 21 and older to own up to one ounce of marijuana in public and grow up to four plants at home. But the sales remained illegal under Virginia law, to give the legislature time to create a framework for the new market. as a result of, Distribution fee Make up a large group of marijuana-related arrests.

Possession of more than one ounce was subject to a $25 civil fine during the first year of ratification (Governor Glenn Yongkin (right) Suggestion She signed a law that went into effect on July 1 of this year that created misdemeanor charges for possession of more than four ounces.) Possession of more than One pound is a felonyas it is Sell ​​more than one ounce of marijuana.

The Post’s analysis was drawn from a list of more than 1,700 citations related to a marijuana-related code between July 1, 2021 and the end of June this year, provided by the Virginia Supreme Court’s executive secretary’s office in response to the Virginia Freedom of Information report. Law request. The data does not include data from the Alexandria Circuit Court or from the state juvenile court, and race data is only categorized as black, white, Asian, and unknown.

The list consists of cases in which a symbol related to the use, possession or sale of marijuana has been registered. Included the majority of cases symbol quotes for sales or Possession by those under the age of 21. The data does not reflect the nature of these arrests or any other charges in an individual case.

Some other marijuana-related charges in police statements, such as Possession by prisonerswere not included in the analysis.

While overall marijuana-related citations have fallen nearly 90 percent in Virginia since 2019, those who bear the brunt of enforcement still face ripple repercussions, said Ashley Shapiro, a Richmond attorney general and criminal justice reform advocate for Justice Organization of Virginia.

“Anytime there are foreseeable and unforeseen criminal consequences for getting a job, while applying for housing,” Shapiro said. “So there are a lot of side effects, even at this time when it is technically legal.”

And in a state like Virginia, implementation can be very location dependent. Chesterfield County General Court had the second largest number of arrests in the state after Virginia Beach General Court, although it is the fifth largest by population. In Chesterfield, black defendants made up 71 percent of 110 lookout-related cases in the year after the certification was passed, according to The Post’s analysis.

In Fairfax County, the state’s most populous county, black defendants made up just over 30 percent of 108 pot-related cases in the year after the law was passed.

“This is further evidence that there should not be a penalty because anyone receiving sanctions, or the majority of people receiving sanctions, at this point will be already marginalized Blacks and Browns,” said Chelsea Higgs Wise CEO. Director of Marijuana Justice, an advocacy group for Virginia’s legalization.

State Senator Adam B. problem.

“It is time that we stand in a legal market that allows adults to buy legally and until we do, we will continue to see divergent trends in the enforcement of cannabis crime,” Eben said.

But even countries with legal markets, report from 2016 It found, it did not succeed in completely eradicating the disproportionate application of marijuana laws. John Hodak, Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, emphasized that while disproportionate enforcement is not declining, arrests are declining, so there are fewer people of color arrested for cannabis crime after legalization than in previous legislation.

“People need to think of treating race issues in our country as a large, comprehensive institutional effort, and not a single policy will be reformed,” Hodak said. “You cannot undo 400 years of racial injustice by passing a single law in a state.”

Commonwealth Decriminalizing marijuana possession in 2020, which led to the first major decline in implementation. In 2019, . was released I mentioned the state More than 26,000 adult arrests linked to marijuana. This number has decreased To more than 13,000 in 2020.

And for the whole of 2021 — which included six months after legalization went into effect on July 1 — there were just over 2,000 marijuana-related arrests.

The low numbers were a victory for Virginia, said J.M. Bedini, executive director of the Virginia National Organization for Marijuana Law Reform, noting that recent study That while legalization does not eliminate disparities—states that have not legalized have shown an increase in internment disparities between blacks and whites over time.

How Legal Weed Changed the United States

“What a reasonable cannabis policy can do is remove some of the tools used for disproportionate policing from the toolbox,” Bedini said. “It is worth noting, decriminalizing, eliminating the use of the scent of marijuana for research or confiscation, then legalization.”

Police in Virginia said they are adapting to the new laws, but the complexity of what’s legal and what can’t be difficult at times, especially changes around not relying on the scent of cannabis as a reason.

“The important thing is that if you have a traffic stop and you smell it, the officer is basically going to be in control of whether or not that person can leave freely,” said Jeff Jess of the Henrico County Sheriff’s Department. But now, “We have to show something more, not just the smell.”

Jess, the officer in charge of the Organized Crime Division, said the agency is still prosecuting marijuana crimes, but possession violations aren’t always a priority.

“If it’s a simple civil sanction, then when you’re in charge and you have to answer for more severe drugs that people are taking and dying, you have to weigh your options,” Jess said.

Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said managing traffic stops — especially for poor driving — has been challenging across the state because there are no set standards for measuring someone’s marijuana disability. On differentiated enforcement, Schrad said the issue is more subtle than people think, such as looking at where service calls are created, or where there are more crashes.

“It’s just something that’s still a violation of federal law, and in theory, we should be able to count on that,” Schrad said. “But we can’t because it’s a different legal framework here in Virginia.”


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