RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Virginia has seen a sharp rise in the number of arrests for marijuana possession over the last decade, particularly among black residents, a new report says.
The report issued by the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance shows that marijuana possession arrests in Virginia rose from 13,032 in 2003 to 22,948 in 2014, or 76 percent. At the same time, possession arrests declined 6.5 percent nationwide, according to the group, which examined data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program.
The report also shows a dramatic disparity in pot arrests between black and white communities.
More than 4,990 black Virginias were arrested for marijuana possession in 2003 compared to 10,293 in 2013, according to the report. Arrests of black Virginia residents rose 106 percent over that period, while arrests of white people went up just 44 percent. Meanwhile, black Virginians accounted for 47 percent of arrests in 2013 even though they make up 20 percent of the state’s population, the report says.
Claire Gastanaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, tells the Washington Post that misdemeanor pot arrests “needlessly ensnare people in the criminal justice system.”
“That limits their ability to get a job, financial aid, child custody,” she said. There’s a mandatory six-month driver’s license revocation, then they can’t keep their job, can’t pay child support, then you have a bunch of people in jail because they’re poor. That’s the big picture.”
But law enforcement officials in Virginia say they still view marijuana as dangerous and remain skeptical about efforts to legalize possession of the drug.
Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said police are concerned about the impact the drug could have in the work environment, particularly among truck drivers and public safety workers.