Attorney General Mark Herring endorses legalizing marijuana. Does it matter?

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Attorney General Mark Herring, who announced in December he plans to run for governor in 2021, said Saturday he backs decriminalizing marijuana and eventually legalizing adult recreational use.

“Virginia’s policy of criminalizing minor marijuana possession is not working,” Herring wrote in an op-ed published in the Daily Press, citing rising arrests in Virginia and a disproportionate impact on black residents. “It is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions.”

Herring’s position won’t impact the way his office or other prosecutors in the state conduct business, he said. And Gov. Ralph Northam already endorsed decriminalization, which hasn’t done much to advance the issue in the Republican-held General Assembly.

So what’s significant about the policy position Herring is now staking out?

Herring said Saturday he hopes his public support leads other lawmakers to reconsider their positions. Others see it as a sign of broadening public support for reform.

“It signifies that it’s becoming more mainstream,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who for years has carried legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

“He can’t wave a wand and make it go away. But he’s a respected leader on criminal justice issues and I think his leadership, taking that position, does signify how mainstream this position has become.”