Pubdate: Mon, 12 Dec 2016
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2016 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Page: A10

War on Drugs


Virginia lawmakers have shown scant inclination to legalize marijuana,
but it might not matter. Law enforcement seems to be doing it for them.

In the past two years, arrests and charges for marijuana crimes have
dropped 14 percent - and "it ain't because less people are smoking
marijuana," one defense lawyer tells the Daily Press. In Newport News,
charges have dropped 60 percent - perhaps in part because prosecutors
there decided a few years ago not to prosecute misdemeanor possession
by adults.

So did Hampton. Its commonwealth's attorney, Anton Bell, says the city
has "bigger fish to fry." Indeed. The broken-windows theory of crime
prevention says strictly enforcing laws against minor offenses
contributes to a law-and-order climate that helps to deter more
serious ones. But there's reason to think the theory has been
overstated and overused: In past years crime dropped in cities that
adopted it - but also in cities that didn't. And some cities that did
adopt it, such as New York, took it too far by launching
unconstitutional policies such as stop-and-frisk.

In any event, it's hard to make an empirical case that shifting
attention back to major crimes and away from minor ones will make
major crimes more likely.

Given nationwide trends, Virginia's General Assembly might one day
decide to join other states that have legalized pot. By that point,
lawmakers might not be shaping social change - but bowing to it.
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