When marijuana arrests drop in places like Colorado or Washington no one is surprised; after all, with full adult use legalization, arrests for something that is no longer illegal are bound to fall.
But when arrests for marijuana drop more than normal in a state like Virginia, people take notice:
The number of people arrested or charged with marijuana offenses has fallen by 14 percent statewide over a two-year stretch — from 25,981 in 2013 to 22,428 in 2015, according to Virginia State Police figures compiled from local law enforcement agencies.
That's the largest two-year drop in at least 15 years, with cannabis charges on pace to fall once again in 2016.
Marijuana has not been legalized in Virginia, for medical or recreational use. But some seem to think that, with less emphasis being put on marijuana nationwide, Virginia is moving in that direction at their own pace.
"Virginia changes the law very gradually, and you can feel it happening,” said Ron Smith, a criminal defense attorney from Hampton, VA. “Even if they don't say, 'Hey, it's legal,' you can see that slow pull, that slow walk toward legalization."
Cities like Newport News – which has seen a 60% drop in cannabis arrests since 2011 – didn’t even have a prosecutor to take on marijuana cases for a while. Authorities there, and in other cities, felt more time should be spent on felony cases instead of misdemeanor pot cases.
Yet cities like Newport News are now reversing course and hiring more prosecutors to handle the workload; perhaps they are irked by the appearance that they are becoming lackadaisical in prosecuting what are still crimes within the state.
And unless felonies in Virginia are 100% solved, petty pot arrests are taking valuable time and resources away from more important crimes. Priorities have to be set, and with budget problems nationwide, who has the money to make arresting marijuana users a top priority?