Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has called a cannabis summit in Richmond ahead of proposed changes to the state’s marijuana laws.

Herring is an advocate of recreational marijuana legalization and polls suggest that the people of Virginia are also keen to end the prohibition. He announced that he would host the cannabis summit on Wednesday, Dec. 11, in an effort to arm lawmakers with the information they need to make educated decisions.

Experts from states that have legalized adult-use marijuana will give presentations at the event. They will include legislators, workers at state agencies, and law enforcement officials.

Herring reaffirmed his stance towards legalization, arguing that Virginia’s current cannabis policies are not working. He said they are needlessly saddling people with criminal records and costing the state millions of dollars per year in social and law enforcement costs.

“We now have an historic opportunity in the General Assembly to pass meaningful cannabis reform and I am hopeful that this year we will begin to see real progress,” said Herring.

He added that he is upbeat about the state’s chances of decriminalizing marijuana in the near future and then passing a plan to move towards a legal, regulated adult-use industry.

Marijuana arrests hit a 20-year high in 2018. Almost 29,000 Virginians were arrested during the year, and that represents a 220% increase on the figure in 1999.

In the past decade alone the number of first-time marijuana convictions has increased 53% to 10,000 per year, and a disproportionate amount of them come from African American communities. The cost of enforcing marijuana laws stands at $81 million per year, according to Herring.

He has urged the General Assembly to begin the decriminalization process in January, and he hopes the cannabis summit will help. He has urged the General Assembly to begin the decriminalization process in January, and he hopes the cannabis summit will help.

Herring noted that marijuana reform measures have consistently been proposed and defeated under the old Republican leadership, but said there is a historic opportunity for Virginia to effect change now that a new team is coming in. The election on Nov. 5, 2019, saw the Democrats win control of both houses and the governor’s mansion for the first time since 1994.

A recent University of Mary Washington poll that suggested 61% of Virginians now favour the legalization of adult-use cannabis. The university polled Virginians on the same issue two years ago and found that 31% were in favour of a legal market for recreational marijuana, so support has spiked dramatically since 2017.