As recreational marijuana increasingly becomes legal in states across the country, local prosecutors in states where it’s still illegal are making the decision not to prosecute cases involving a minimal amount of the drug. Here in Virginia, Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney announced in January that his office would stop prosecuting misdemeanor cases.
Now Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales is following suit. This month, her office began dismissing all pending cases. Defendants will still have to pay court costs, but they won’t be prosecuted. With the support of local judges, Portsmouth prosecutors have begun dismissing all such pending cases. Defendants, however, will still have to pay court costs of about $165 each.
Morales said, “I think we have a need for decriminalization and some restorative justice here.” She also noted that it’s better for the prosecutors in her office to focus their time and resources on violent crimes. She said, “We have really heavy caseloads, body cameras to watch and of course murder cases to handle. It’s a lot.”
This move doesn’t mean that people are free to smoke marijuana on the streets of Portsmouth. The interim police chief said that the city’s officers will “make arrests and enforce the law as they do in all criminal matters.” However, she adds that “it is up to the members of our judicial system…to determine the appropriate penalties for the criminal offense.”
The top prosecutor says that her office will still pursue marijuana possession charges if there’s a violent crime involved. She predicts that most of these cases will involve juvenile defendants.
While individual prosecutors and jurisdictions are changing their policies regarding the prosecution of marijuana-related crimes, it’s essential to understand that the laws in Virginia haven’t changed. If you’re facing any drug-related charges, even those involving marijuana, it’s essential to take the matter seriously. It’s always wise to seek legal guidance to help protect your rights.