Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney says he won’t prosecute simple marijuana charges

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NORFOLK, Va. - In a letter sent January 3, the Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Norfolk informed judges, law enforcement and public safety officials that he won’t prosecute simple marijuana charges.

Top prosecutor Greg Underwood states in the letter he won’t prosecute misdemeanor marijuana charges and will move to nolle prosse - or dismiss - those cases.

“The Office already does not prosecute these cases; however, some come to the Office as misdemeanor appeals or when attached to felony charges or misdemeanor charges the Office handles. The Office will cease prosecuting all misdemeanor marijuana possession cases and will move to nolle prosequi or dismiss such cases that fall within our purview,” according to the letter.

Crime analyst and former detective Richard James said law enforcement can still cite you for possession of marijuana and explained what could happen in that case.

“The police officer can still take them to court and prosecute them in General District Court for possession of marijuana, and if that case is appealed to the Circuit Court where the Commonwealth’s Attorney will now become involved, then the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office will make a motion to dismiss the charge, or nolle prosse the charge,” said James.

Underwood writes that he has researched criminal justice and public safety reform, had a task force review it and also sought input from experts at Old Dominion University.

“The evidence is clear that there are racial biases in the enforcement of marijuana,” said James.

Several supporters of the legalization of marijuana were happy to learn about Underwood’s decision.

“I’m just glad to see that our public leaders are finally making a public statement,” said Cindy Cutler, who is a member of the Board of Directors for Virginia NORML. NORML, a nonprofit that supports the legalization of marijuana.

She praised Underwood for the letter he wrote and wants to see other cities do the same thing.

Cutler said too many tax dollars are spent on marijuana prosecution and said a marijuana charge can seriously damage the reputation of the person arrested.

She said marijuana also helps so many people.

Related: Parents discuss how medical cannabis oil helps their kids 

“Now that I’ve been a leader in this movement for the last several years, I realize that marijuana is a medicine for many people,” said Cutler.

“We would certainly like to see other Commonwealth’s Attorneys follow the lead of Greg Underwood and would like to see our General Assembly this year address the decriminalization of marijuana,” said Cutler.

Those against the legalization of marijuana say it could be a gateway drug and lead to other health problems.

The letter also stated the Office will support the release of defendants on bail in more misdemeanor and felony cases with a personal recognizance bond with or without conditions.

It also stated that when a person gets arrested for prostitution and hiring a prostitute, the Office will seek similar dispositions upon convictions for these similarly-situated defendants.

NORML has the following upcoming events in Norfolk:

Click here to read the full letter.

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