Here’s how much Virginia taxpayers are spending to jail marijuana users

By Christopher Ingraham

Marijuana advocates gather outside the U.S. Capitol on April 24 to urge lawmakers to lower restrictions on marijuana use in Washington. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Over the past 10 years, Virginia authorities have arrested more than 133,000 people suspected of marijuana possession. Each year, about 10,000 individuals are convicted of a first-time marijuana possession offense. And on one day in July 2017, there were 127 individuals in jail on a marijuana charge alone, costing Virginia taxpayers more than $10,000 a day.

Those are among the findings of a report on marijuana decriminalization prepared by the Virginia State Crime Commission ahead of consideration of proposed legislation to decriminalize marijuana possession in the state. The bills would not legalize marijuana outright but would make possession of small quantities of marijuana a civil offense punishable with a fine, similar to a traffic ticket. Under current Virginia law, a first marijuana offense can be punished by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

In practice, according to the State Crime Commission’s report, relatively few people are jailed for marijuana offenses. Jail time is often waived for first-time offenders, and only about 31 percent of subsequent marijuana offenses are punished with jail sentences.

Among the 127 inmates jailed in Virginia on marijuana charges on July 20, more than three-quarters of them — 96 — were still awaiting their day in court. The remaining 31 marijuana inmates had been charged and convicted. The average per-inmate cost to taxpayers to jail an inmate in Virginia was $79.28 per day.

Thousands of Virginians are convicted of marijuana possession offenses each year, and the number is growing: In fiscal 2008, there were 6,533 convictions for first-time marijuana possession in Virginia. The preliminary numbers for fiscal 2017 show more than 10,000 such convictions.

Those convictions, regardless of whether …read more

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