Virginia’s top prosecutor pushes for legalized pot use; not everyone agrees

Virginia’s top prosecutor is leading a push to decriminalize, and eventually legalize, the use of small amounts of recreational marijuana.

“There are smarter, better ways to approach cannabis,” Attorney General Mark Herring told WTOP on Monday.

Herring said he believes that prosecuting marijuana possession cases is costing the state a lot of money, which he believes can be better spent elsewhere.

He also believes marijuana cases are needlessly creating criminals and disproportionately affecting African Americans.

“Criminalizing marijuana possession is not working,” Herring said.

Dana Schrad, executive director for the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said her organization cannot support a push to decriminalize the drug.

“It’s a great deal of conflict for law enforcement to have decriminalization at the state level when something is still against the law in federal criminal code,” Schrad said.

Herring believes steps should be taken to first decriminalize simple possession of small amounts of the drug and address past convictions. Then, he said, attention can turn to laying down the groundwork for legalization.

Schrad said among her organization’s concerns are the impact legal marijuana use could have on impaired driving, the development of children and on opioid abuse with reported cases of people lacing pot with other drugs, such as fentanyl.

“Without a good plan moving forward, it can be just treacherous to legalize and decriminalize marijuana in a state that is still dealing with an opioid crisis,” she said.

Virginia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly has killed several bills proposed in the past that were aimed at decriminalizing the drug. But Herring, who made his case in an op-ed in The Daily Press this weekend, hopes his push will help motivate lawmakers to act.

“I really want to get the ball rolling and put my weight and voice behind this,” Herring said.

Herring’s announcement won’t have any practical impact on marijuana prosecutions, which are typically handled at the local level. But Herring said he hopes his public support for legalization will help spur lawmakers to act.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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