Virginia Is Wasting How Much Money To Jail Marijuana Users?

Republican lawmaker fighting for decriminalization to save $367,503 a year.

Virginia
Photo by jaroas via Pixabay

A Republican state senator from Virginia is fighting to decriminalize marijuana after release of report from the state’s crime commission concluded that it would prevent more than 10,000 arrests a year.

Sen. Tommy Norment, who serves as the senate majority leader, said earlier this week that he will introduce legislation in 2018 that would make possession for first-time offenders a civil offense punishable by a fine, mandatory education and a driver’s license suspension. 

According to the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham:

Among the 127 inmates jailed in Virginia on marijuana charges on July 20, more than three-quarters of them — 96 — were still awaiting their day in court. The remaining 31 marijuana inmates had been charged and convicted. The average per-inmate cost to taxpayers to jail an inmate in Virginia was $79.28 per day.

Thousands of Virginians are convicted of marijuana possession offenses each year, and the number is growing: In fiscal 2008, there were 6,533 convictions for first-time marijuana possession in Virginia. The preliminary numbers for fiscal 2017 show more than 10,000 such convictions.

Simple math tells us that the state pays a little more than $10,000 per day to incarcerate prisoners charged with marijuana crimes. That adds up to $367,503 per year.

Norment is not an advocate for legalization, but he recognizes the harm a criminal conviction has on the future of young people trapped in the criminal justice system. The Virginian Pilot reports:

Colin Drabert, senior staff attorney for the Crime Commission, outlined those consequences during part of his hourlong presentation Monday.

People with drug convictions can be denied jobs or housing, have federal financial aid and professional licenses taken away, lose custody of their children and temporarily lose their right to purchase or carry firearms, Drabert said.

According to the Virginia State Crime Commission report titled “Decriminalization of Marijuana,” 3,850 people provided written comments on the issue and 3,743 supported decriminalization. In other words, 97 percent are in favor of changing the state law.

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