Marijuana arrests in the city of Richmond and the surrounding areas fell by an astonishing 90 percent since cannabis became legal in Virginia on July 1. In just seven weeks, marijuana laws reduced crime in the city and the surrounding counties with police making only about two dozen arrests.
The new law, which made Virginia the first southern state to legalize adult-use cannabis, allows people to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and grow four plants at home. While sales will not begin until 2024, Virginia lawmakers decided to move forward immediately with decriminalizing cannabis this year, hoping that the marijuana law would reduce crime.
“A 90% reduction in marijuana arrests indicates that the public policy is performing as intended and in a manner that is consistent with post-legalization observations from other states,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
More Than 200 Fewer Arrests in Seven Weeks
Law enforcement in Virginia and the three surrounding counties of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico reported a total of 25 cannabis-related arrests in the first seven weeks after the new law went into effect. During that same seven-week period in 2020, police made 257 cannabis-related arrests.
The arrests offer a glimpse into what happens in an area where marijuana possession has been decriminalized – people still find ways to break the law. For example, deputies arrested one man in Chesterfield County for having 50 plants in the bed of his truck and inside his home – 46 more than the law allows.
Even with the new law, that results in two felony charges: possession with the intent to distribute more than 5 pounds of marijuana, and possession of between 50 and 100 marijuana plants, according to the Times-Dispatch.
Of the 25 arrests, 10 involved people under the age of 21 who possessed marijuana. The first person arrested after the law went into effect came from this group – a 19-year-old pulled over for a suspended driver’s license. Police found marijuana in his possession.
A Call for Social Justice
Overall, the drop in crime is exactly what Virginia Democrats wanted to see (no Republicans voted for legalization). Because police historically have arrested Black and Latino people at higher rates than other racial groups, political leaders wanted to move ahead with decriminalizing marijuana possession even as they work out a system to oversee legal sales.
Marijuana advocates have made social justice and reducing arrests a major factor in legalization campaigns. The drop in arrests in Virginia shows how quickly that can have an impact. It also validates the findings of past studies that have shown crime has not increased in areas where marijuana is legal.
The research to this point indicates marijuana laws have reduced crimes while making cannabis accessible to millions. People across the country can now see for themselves the impact of marijuana legalization on crime in their area. A third of the country now lives where recreational marijuana is legal.