Even as cannabis decriminalization or legalization is proposed in Virginia and in other states across the country, a full 40% of drug arrests nationwide in 2018 concerned marijuana. Police across the country arrest more people for cannabis than for any other single drug, and marijuana remains illegal at the federal level even as some states offer fully legal markets for recreational cannabis. In 2018, 663,000 people were arrested for some form of marijuana-related offenses, a substantial portion of the total 1,650,000 drug arrests nationwide.
After marijuana offenses, the second-largest category involved “other” drugs, including a wide range of stimulants, prescription medications and other substances, involved in 29% of drug cases. One-quarter of all drug arrests related to heroin, cocaine or other opioids, while 6% involved manufactured, synthetic or “designer” drugs. These total arrests include possession charges as well as those for sale, manufacturing or distribution. The overwhelming majority of people accused of marijuana crimes were arrested for possession. A full 92% of marijuana charges were for drug possession, even as prosecutions for cannabis possession have helped to spark demands for criminal justice reform.
Ten states have legalized recreational cannabis, while 26 states have adopted some form of decriminalization. The legislative changes have made a difference; in 2010, marijuana arrests made up over half of all drug charges nationwide. They are at their lowest level in 20 years, but still continue to involve hundreds of thousands of people every year in the criminal justice system.
In Virginia, marijuana possession is still illegal, even in small amounts, although a number of prominent politicians have voiced support for decriminalization or legalization. People charged with drug offenses over marijuana can still face serious consequences, including a criminal record or even jail time. A criminal defense lawyer may help people to protect their rights and work to prevent a conviction.