Northern Virginia

Fairfax Co. Commonwealth's Attorney Declining to Prosecute Simple Marijuana Possession

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Fairfax County’s new commonwealth’s attorney made a big impact on his first day by declining to prosecute simple marijuana possession.

The punishment for a simple marijuana possession charge — possession of anything less than half an ounce — in Virginia is 30 days in jail and a $500 fine, but prosecutors in Fairfax County are asking judges to dismiss every such charge.

“This was good for our community; this was the values of our community,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said. 

A Fairfax County judge heard seven cases Thursday. One case was continued, and six were dismissed.

At first, the judge denied the prosecution’s motion to dismiss, but the prosecution declined to call witnesses or present evidence against the defendant, forcing the judge to dismiss the charge.

“Just because it’s the commonwealth’s attorney’s discretion to prosecute or not prosecute a case, to call a witness or to not call a witness, so we knew that by not calling that witness, we were exercising our discretion to not prosecute that case,” Descano said.

“We don’t want to see people in prison just because they got caught with a joint,” said Garth Van Meter, who works for a nonprofit called Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

But he doesn’t want marijuana commercialized and marketed for recreation.

“I’m concerned that the way the Fairfax prosecutor is going about this is sending a very muddled message and one that is more towards the side of commercialization than dealing with meaningful social justice reforms,” he said.

Descano said marijuana possession convictions don’t make communities safer. He’d rather use county resources fighting violent crime but he promises to prosecute other marijuana related offenses, such as distribution or driving under the influence.

Fairfax County police say they will continue to enforce laws against possession.

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