Fairfax County ceases pot-possession prosecutions

On his first day in office, the commonwealth’s attorney for Fairfax County, Virginia, has made good on a campaign promise, saying his office will no longer prosecute simple marijuana possession cases against adults.

“We did it on the first day because it’s the right thing to do,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano told WTOP on Thursday.

“I went around this community for over a year … and one thing that came up over and over again was that we need to stop prosecuting adults for simple possession of marijuana.”

If someone is arrested on a possession charge, the case file will be reviewed by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office to determine whether it’s a case of simple possession. If it is, prosecutors will move to have the case dismissed at the case’s first hearing. It happened multiple times in court on Thursday.

Steve Descano, commonwealth’s attorney-elect, Fairfax County, Virginia, speaks at an event at the Center for American Progress about Virginia’s newly elected progressive prosecutors on Tuesday, December 17, 2019. (Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Descano said he hoped the move would free up resources “to be used in a smarter way. Those resources should be going toward serious crimes — crimes with victims, crimes that actually do have an impact on public safety.”

Simple possession refers to pot for personal use, Descano said. The policy doesn’t excuse possession with the intent to distribute, or conspicuous use of marijuana in public.

The Fairfax County police had no comment in response to the announcement, and referred WTOP to the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.

Descano said he wouldn’t presume to tell the police department what to do in regards to marijuana possession arrests, but a policy directive released by his office said, “If each arrest or citation takes an hour of officer time and the arresting/citing officer must appear in court only twice for each case, [p]olice will have spent over $2.9 million on possession of marijuana cases in a two-year period.”

Descano said people who are convicted of simple possession have a record that follows them the rest of their lives.

“That record is going to hurt them when they go try to get a job, to try to get a student loan, even when they try to get a decent apartment to live in,” Descano said. “When you limit their opportunity, it hurts them, it hurts their family and it hurts the entire community and, in a lot of ways, makes the community less safe.”

He said the new policy reflects the values of the community.

“Everything that I do, from now until the day that I leave office, is going to be with the values of this community in mind, first and foremost,” Descano said.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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