Twenty-year high: Where Virginia police are making the most marijuana arrests

Cannabis leaves. (Pixabay/Creative Commons license)

As we reported last year, marijuana arrests in Virginia have been ticking up even as social views on the drug have softened. The trend continued again this year, with police agencies reporting about 29,000 in 2018, according to data released by Virginia State Police.

That’s a 3.5 percent increase over 2017 numbers – not a huge jump, but, as Attorney General Mark Herring notes, that means marijuana arrests are still at their highest levels in 20 years.

Herring recently announced he supports the eventual legalization of the drug, citing disproportionate enforcement in communities of color.

Gov. Ralph Northam campaigned on decriminalization, but Republicans in the General Assembly have blocked proposed reforms.

There’s no consensus on what’s driving the increase and no obvious geographic pattern. The localities with the five highest arrest rates last year were Colonial Heights, Emporia, Rockbridge County, Buena Vista and Martinsville.

In interviews last year, some theorized that as the drug has become less socially stigmatized, users have gotten less discrete, prompting more arrests. Others suggest it’s getting easier to obtain the drug. And the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police floated the possibility that better reporting of arrests by local departments have inflated the numbers, though officials in jurisdictions with the highest arrest rates said they hadn’t changed the way they log arrests.

According to the state police, marijuana accounted for 60 percent of drug arrests in the state.