Fines not crimes.
That's the message we're hearing more and more across the country when it comes to the possession of marijuana.
Norfolk City Council feels the same way voting in favor of decriminalizing pot in The Commonwealth.
“Any state that has not decriminalized is behind,” said Jesse Scaccia, of Virginia NORML, who says Virginia is way behind.
“Marijuana arrests are actually on the rise in Virginia as they fall in other states, so we have seen a 20 percent increase, there were almost 28,000 people arrested for marijuana laws last year,” said Scaccia.
However, nationwide 30 states have either legalized or decriminalized marijuana in some form.
“No one should be in jail for possessing marijuana,” said Scaccia.
Virginia NORML’s mission is to help change marijuana laws.
“So currently with your first-time possession if you get caught with a little bag and a joint they can put you away for 30 days and a $500 dollar fine,” said Scaccia. “So moving to a decriminalized system means there would be no option for jail time for simple possession and it would only be a $50 dollar fine.”
In 2018 Virginia made a huge step when lawmakers decided to legalize medical marijuana. Virginia NORML hopes this builds momentum.
“Three quarters of Virginians are in support of decriminalization and I expect that number to rise as more people try medical and see the benefits and the days of reefer madness fall to the wayside,” said Scaccia.
Scaccia says he’s seen first hand how detrimental a pot arrest can be, especially for young people.
“So I was a public school teacher in a past career and you would see kids who are good kids who are made to be criminals because they are caught with a joint and their entire lives are caught off track,” said Scaccia.
He says convincing lawmakers to change the law means having strength in numbers. The support of the city of Norfolk is a good start.
“Just because you are in favor of decriminalization does not mean that you are outing yourself as a pot smoker we have to be able to talk about this issue in an intellectual academic way,” said Scaccia.