City Council Considers Reducing Penalties for Marijuana Arrests

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February 15, 2013

Some Charlottesville residents say it's time to take jail time off the table when it comes to marijuana.

"It's really hard for me to believe many people in our community, or our society anymore, believe jail is the appropriate response to somebody caught with a marijuana joint," said Jeffrey Fogel, a Charlottesville attorney.

Fogel is pushing for city councilors to adopt the Marijuana Ordinance. But not everybody thinks penalties need to change, including local law enforcement officers. Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said a marijuana arrest is usually made when other criminal activity is going on.

"Most of the possession cases, particularly marijuana, either are resolved by a citation...or the marijuana arrest is discovered because of some other incident," Longo said. "So is a lot of time being spent from an enforcement standpoint on the possession of marijuana? Probably not."

Police arrest records show between 2005 and 2010, between 100 and 150 people are arrested for possession of marijuana each year in Charlottesville. But Fogel says the racial disparity in those arrest statistics is alarming.

"More than 55 percent of those people are African American, while the population of African Americans here in our community is only 20 percent," Fogel said. "Something is rotten in Denmark."

Supporters of the marijuana ordinance plan to speak out during the city council meeting Tuesday. "I want to urge people, whether they smoke marijuana or not, to come down to the city council meeting and support us in our efforts," Fogel said.

Fogel has one goal with the marijuana ordinance; "Simply to get jail off the table and get the focus of our attention on young people and the public health issues involved and not using the criminal law to solve a public health problem."

Under the proposed ordinance, a marijuana possession conviction would result in a maximum penalty of a $250 dollar fine, a loss of drivers license for six months, and no time in jail.

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