Analysis shows that around 20,000 Virginians were convicted of marijuana possession in 2018 and more than half of them were African American.

More than 46,000 marijuana cases were prosecuted in the state during the 12-month period and the defendant was found guilty in almost 20,000 cases. African Americans make up just 19% of the population in Virginia, but they accounted for 49% of prosecutions for marijuana possession and 51% of all defendants found guilty.

The analysis of General District Court data from Capital News Service found that more than 1,400 of every 100,000 black Virginians faced marijuana charges in 2018, compared to 425 in every 100,000 non-Hispanic white Virginians.

The authors of the study pointed out that surveys suggest equal use of cannabis among black and white Virginians, arguing that African Americans are unfairly persecuted.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is spearheading the bid to see recreational marijuana legalized in the state in 2020. Earlier this month he called a called a cannabis summit in Richmond to educate policymakers on the benefits of legalization, bringing in officials and law enforcement representatives from states that have already permitted recreational cannabis use to speak at the event.

First Herring wants to see marijuana decriminalized and then he will push for full legalization for all adults in the state. “The burden of this system is falling disproportionately on African Americans and people of color; there is a better and smarter approach to cannabis, and the time has come that we can embrace that,” he said.

Herring estimates that the state spends $81 million enforcing cannabis laws on an annual basis. That money could be diverted towards bolstering public services, while tax revenue would also boost the state’s coffers and help eradicate the illicit market.

The Attorney General has said that the state’s cannabis laws are not working, as they are needlessly saddling people with criminal convictions. Virginians can currently expect a fine of up to $500 and up to 30 days behind bars if convicted of knowingly possessing marijuana. They can also find it harder to secure employment, housing, and places at colleges as convictions remain on their records.

Virginia NORML will present the Virginia 2020 Cannabis Conference at Delta Hotels in Richmond on Jan. 11-12.

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