Possession of Marijuana Law and Procedure for Arlington, Virginia
The prosecution of simple cases of possession of marijuana in Arlington is different than the prosecution of these cases in other Virginia jurisdictions.
The newly elected Arlington prosecutor declared that her team is expected to non-prosecute charges of marijuana possession in General District Court and Circuit Court of Arlington County. The determination of which cases will be afforded such leniency will depend on a case-by-case analysis, with disqualification from leniency for cases of possession with “aggravating factors.” This leniency will not extend to possession with intent to distribute marijuana and it is unknown whether this policy will extend to juvenile cases.
Under Virginia law, marijuana possession remains unlawful. About 14% of Arlington police arrests are related to marijuana possession each year.
This policy does not preclude Arlington Police officers from enforcing Virginia’s marijuana possession laws. Thus, people within Arlington, Virginia will still be charged for Possession of Marijuana by Arlington County Police, will be summoned to court, and will still need to go to court. Once in court, county attorneys will determine whether you will be prosecuted for the misdemeanor crime of possession of marijuana or not.
Dismissal or non-prosecution of criminal charges in court is not guaranteed in Virginia, even if the prosecutor asks for it. Judges have voiced their concerns with this policy and may stand in the way of non-prosecution and dismissal.
Arlington is not the first jurisdiction to attempt to alleviate the marijuana possession burden on defendants. Greg Underwood, a prosecutor in a Virginia city over 200 miles southeast of Arlington, attempted to dismiss all of the marijuana charges pending before the Circuit Court. The judges did not consistently honor his motions for dismissal, so Underwood took his case to the Supreme Court of Virginia. In the case facts presented to the Supreme Court, Underwood told a Circuit Court judge that he was “entitled” to dismiss a marijuana charge. The Supreme Court disagreed, saying that Virginia judges have “no duty” to dismiss a case just because a prosecutor asks for a dismissal. Virginia judges, thus, continue to maintain discretion over marijuana cases. Another Virginia, prosecutor was similarly engaging in dismissal of marijuana cases throughout 2019, though she has recently run into some opposition from the local judges.
Moreover, Virginia law permits police officers to pursue marijuana possession charges independently of the prosecutors, and Arlington police officers have discussed this option of pursuing their own possession cases in court, according to the Washington Post, though it is yet unknown whether they will act on it.