Virginia has a justice system that unfortunately is not very just, and has many policies that are a legacy of an explicitly racist past, when the state government enforced massive resistance to integration and banned interracial marriage. Too many Virginians are languishing in prison for victimless crimes like drug use, away from their families and away from any kind of productive work.
Virginia spends billions of dollars each year on a criminal justice system that arrests 40,000 Virginians for drug crimes annually, with marijuana arrests accounting for 60% of those, and mere possession well over 80%. African Americans are arrested at about three times the frequency of others, even though surveys show that drug use is no more prevalent in African American communities. The direct cost to incarcerate each person is nearly $30,000 per year ($120,000 for juveniles), not to mention the loss of their productivity to the economy and the loss of their tax dollars, and all the negative economic consequences for their family and for their future.
For all of those costs, what benefits are we getting? None. We would be better off taking that money and setting it on fire, because at least we wouldn’t be making things worse. Someone who is struggling with substance abuse needs help, not incarceration and a criminal record. That is why I would legalize marijuana, siding with the more than 85% of Virginians who support that, and join the 29 other states that already have some form of legal marijuana. We know it works. When marijuana is legalized, opioid deaths plummet and tax revenues soar, allowing other sources of tax revenue like income taxes and sales taxes to be cut and put back into the pockets of the people.
As governor I would also grant an absolute pardon to everyone who is in jail only for drug use, after completion of a treatment or anti-recidivism program, if deemed necessary, so they can return to their families and expunge their records and get a good, stable job. Ending the drug war allows Virginia to save money while strengthening families and improving relationships between police and the communities they serve.
I would also legalize hemp, which contains virtually no THC, creating a new industry in rural Virginia based on cultivation and on refining and manufacturing final products, and I would curb numerous other abusive criminal justice practices in Virginia. For example, I would make arrest quotas explicitly illegal, so that police officer promotions or awards cannot be predicated on making a certain number of arrests. I would end the abusive suspension of driver’s licenses for failure to pay trivial fines and for minor drug offenses to help keep at-risk Virginians employed.
I would end civil asset forfeiture abuse, also known as “policing for profit,” a practice where police can seize private property based merely on an assertion that the property was related to criminal activity, without any criminal charge or conviction, and victims are forced to sue the police department to get their property back.
I would reintroduce parole for non-violent offenders to encourage rehabilitation and good behavior and to reduce recidivism. I would make restoration of voting rights automatic after all sentences and probation are served, as in almost all other states. And, I would end trial by ambush, by requiring prosecutors to turn over police reports and other evidence to the defense before a trial.