Four months since Virginia’s marijuana legalization law took effect, counties across the state are reporting a staggering drop in cannabis-related arrests.

Richmond Police Department announced such arrests plummeted in the state’s capitol by as much as 90 percent.

Police data shows there were 20 arrests in Chesterfield, three in Richmond, two in Henrico and zero in Hanover for cannabis offenses between July 1 – the day cannabis possession became legal for adults 21 and older – and August 20. This total of 25 marijuana-related arrests compares to 257 such arrests in the same counties over the same period last year.

“A 90 percent reduction in marijuana arrests indicates that the public policy is performing as intended and in a manner that is consistent with post-legalization observations from other states,” said executive director of the Virginia NORML chapter Jenn Michelle Pedini.

Aside from the low cannabis arrest rate, Virginia now also has the most lenient penalties in the country for those who exceed marijuana possession limits.

Following Gov. Ralph Northam’s signing of a marijuana legalization bill into law, it is now legal to possess up to one ounce of cannabis in the state, as well as to cultivate up to four plants per household. Growers must, however, tag each plant with their driver’s license or ID plus a note attesting they are growing it for personal use.

Though the number of cannabis-related arrests is much lower in Virginia now, some of those who have been arrested say they were confused about what exactly is and isn’t legally permitted.

Seventeen of the arrests were for underage possession, which incurs a civil penalty, while others were reprimanded for public consumption. One Chesterfield resident was arrested for growing an estimated 50 marijuana plants without the required note and identification tags.

Chesterfield Police Chief Jeffrey Katz said his force has reached out to the community with informational content via social media to help them understand what the law change actually entails.

“Virginia, we have a problem. A lot of folks believe that as of July 1, 2021, the possession and use of marijuana is legal within the Commonwealth. In reality, it’s not that simple,” Katz says in the YouTube video. “We feel an obligation to those we serve to provide a little context into some of the more granular nuances of this widely misunderstood legislation… but even this brief animated summary doesn’t replace an in-depth review of the law as passed. The devil is in the details, as they say… and like all laws passed by our legislature, it is our charge to encourage compliance and enforce violations. Ignorance of the law isn’t a defense, so we encourage everyone to be both informed and safe.”

While cannabis possession is legal in Virginia, there’s nowhere to legally buy it. This means people either have to grow their own or buy it from the illicit market.

The legal market isn’t slated to launch in Virginia until January 1, 2024, though marijuana reform advocates are pushing for an earlier start date.

About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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