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Did a new marijuana law affect how many guns officers took off the streets last year? One police chief says so.

In some Hampton Roads cities, gun seizures dropped in 2021 compared to the year before.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — A new marijuana law may have played a role in how many illegal weapons police officers seized last year. 

That’s according to Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew who said his officers used to recover more guns when police were allowed to stop and search people based on whether officers smelled marijuana.  

“Before when we saw it or smelled it, it allowed us to do another step,” Drew said. “That step’s been removed.”  

The smell of cannabis is no longer probable cause because of a bill passed by the General Assembly that stops police from searching people based solely on the smell of weed. 

“We did see a drop,” Drew said. 

Newport News Police officers seized 1,076 illegal weapons in 2020 and 836 in 2021.  

Next door, Hampton also saw a drop: Hampton Police Division officers seized 401 guns in 2020 and 358 in 2021.   

Hampton Police Chief Mark Talbot said there is no concrete data linking the change in the law to a drop in gun seizures, and there is no data that correlates people who smoke weed with people who own guns.   

“The data does not indicate the change in marijuana laws are the reason why seizures are down,” Talbot said. “It doesn’t even make much sense to me… I’m open to the possibility that that’s the case but ok, show the evidence of it.” 

Talbot said there are a lot of variables that could have contributed to why gun seizures dropped last year - including changes in behavior because of the pandemic and the number and experience of the officers employed at the time. 

“And then you miss looking at the reason why the law changed,” Talbot said. “The reason why the law changed is because people were being harmed by overly aggressive police work that tended to consistently hurt the same people.” 

Drew stressed he’s not saying people who smoke weed are more likely to use a gun.  

“I’m not saying that individuals who use marijuana are any more violent or any more prone to gun violence,” Drew said.  

He explained, that buying and selling weed is still illegal in Virginia; And in his experience as police chief, when those illegal transactions occur, a gun may be involved. 

“When individuals start to partake in buying marijuana, or trading marijuana, or selling marijuana, when cash gets involved – I have seen some home invasions around that, I have seen some robberies around that,” Drew said. 

Chesapeake police officers seized 79 guns in 2020 and 49 guns in 2021.  

Suffolk Police officers seized 263 guns in 2020 and 254 in 2021.   

Both Chief Drew and Chief Talbot say, so far this year – gun seizures are up in Hampton and Newport News, compared to this same point, last year.   

Drew said his officers had to readjust their strategies because of the change in the law.  

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