Attorney General Mark Herring.jpg

Attorney General Mark Herring

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said he supports the legalization of recreational marijuana, citing a study that shows more than half of Virginians agree with him. 

“Virginians know we can do better. It’s time to move toward legal, regulated adult use,” Herring said in his retweet on Oct. 1 of a study that revealed more than half of Virginians agree with him. 

The study, published by the University of Mary Washington last month, showed that 61 percent of Virginians support legalization of recreational marijuana, while 34 percent oppose legalization. The remaining respondents said they were uncertain.

This is a noticeable uptick from a UMW study conducted in 2017 that showed 39 percent of Virginians supported legalizing marijuana for personal use. The 2017 question was worded differently, asking if marijuana should be legalized in general, for personal or medical use, or remain illegal. A plurality said medical marijuana should be legal and the rest (17 percent) were opposed to legalization. 

Recreational use of marijuana is becoming an increasingly popular issue for Virginia politicians as they go into the November State Senate elections and the upcoming 2021 gubernatorial elections. 

Candidates in Fauquier County races are being asked their positions both on medical marijuana and decriminalization of recreational use.

D.J. Jordan, Republican candidate for the 31st District House of Delegates seat held by Democrat Elizabeth Guzman, said during a Sept. 18 candidates’ forum in Bealeton that he supported medicinal use of marijuana and reduced sentences for first-time recreational users. He said he doesn’t support legalizing recreational marijuana.

Guzman said she would support a bill to pass the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, pointing to studies that have shown that marijuana helps in pain management and eliminates the need for heavy doses of prescription pills. She said she supports reclassifying marijuana possession as a civil penalty rather than a criminal one.

The 31st District includes parts of Fauquier and Prince William counties.

Jessica Foster, a criminal defense attorney, said during the same forum that she supported decriminalization. A Democrat, Foster is running for the 88th District seat held by Mark Cole, a Republican. Cole said he supports lessening the penalties for marijuana possession but not full decriminalization.

The 88th District includes parts of Fauquier, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties and part of the city of Fredericksburg.

Jill Vogel, a Republican representing the 27th District in the State Senate, said she supports the use of medical marijuana and reducing penalties for recreational use, though not decriminalization. She noted she introduced a cannabis oil bill for medicinal use.

Vogel’s Democratic opponent in the Nov. 5 election, Ronnie Ross, said he thinks it’s time to decriminalize marijuana use.

Both Vogel and Ross spoke favorably during the Sept. 18 candidates forum about drug courts – courts that direct defendants to treatment programs in place of jail time.

The 27th District includes all of Fauquier, Clarke and Frederick counties, all of the city of Winchester, and parts of Culpeper, Stafford and Loudoun counties.

Stephen Farnsworth, a UMW political science professor, said he believes legalization is several years away, but the timeline could change if a Democratic majority is elected in November. Eighty percent of the commonwealth’s youth (25 and under) are in favor of recreational marijuana, Farnsworth said, adding, “Winning the support of younger voters can be key.” 

Herring, a candidate in the 2021 gubernatorial elections, has long voiced his support for decriminalization of marijuana. 

Micheal Kelly, director of communications for Herring, said in an email the attorney general believes “Virginia needs to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, take action to address past convictions, and a move toward legal and regulated adult use in Virginia.”

Almost all marijuana-related arrests last year (90 percent) were for possession alone, and arrests for marijuana possession have increased 115% from 2003 to 2017, according to a press release from the attorney general’s office. First time marijuana convictions in Virginia have risen 53 percent from 2008 to 2017, with enforcement costs estimated to be nearly $81 million a year.

James Ivancic of the Fauquier Times contributed to this story.

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