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Prosecutor Turns To VA Supreme Court For Action On Marijuana Decriminalization Policy

marijuana under magnifying glass

A patchwork of marijuana policies is developing across the state as top prosecutors in the Hampton Roads area move to dismiss low-level marijuana charges. Now, the Virginia Supreme Court may decide what locally-elected prosecutors have the authority to do.

In Norfolk and Portsmouth, commonwealth’s attorneys have declined to prosecute simple marijuana possession. But Richmond and Chesterfield are taking a different approach. Chesterfield Commonwealth’s Attorney Scott Miles said, in his jurisdiction, first-time offenders can avoid jail time if they perform community service and take substance abuse classes within 90 days.

“There is a concern in the community that if I categorically say I’m not going to prosecute this crime, as it’s defined by the legislature, that I’m overstepping the bounds of my office," Miles said.

Judges in Norfolk are also concerned about prosecutors circumventing state law. That’s why they’ve denied Norfolk prosecutor Greg Underwood’s request to dismiss marijuana cases.

Underwood filed a petition last week asking the State Supreme Court to force those judges to cooperate with his policy.

It’s unclear if the court will take up the matter.

State lawmakers have introduced bills each year to decriminalize small amounts of Marijuana. Possession of half an ounce or less is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Jenn Michelle Pedini is Executive Director of Virginia NORML, which advocates for the decriminalization of marijuana.

“Three-quarters of Virginians support fines, not crimes for simple possession of marijuana,” Pedini said. "And despite this overwhelming public support in a majority in each and every demographic, the General Assembly still fails to move these bills forward every year.”