Students see fewer arrests amid decriminalized marijuana, but legalization won’t stop college penalties | Local News

Marijuana has been growing on Virginia.

This summer, the state decriminalized the drug, meaning simple possession prompts a $25 civil fine rather than a misdemeanor that could carry a $500 fee, a suspended driver’s license and even jail time. Last month, Gov. Ralph Northam pledged that the General Assembly convening in January will seek to legalize weed, which practically could take effect as early as the summer.

For college students across Virginia, the move away from criminalization has led to a sometimes dramatic drop in the number of those arrested over drugs. But state legalization of marijuana may not bring about as drastic a change on campuses, because of federal laws.

Last year, for the first time since at least 2014, more Virginia Tech students were referred to the university’s conduct office for drugs than were criminally charged, according to a Roanoke Times analysis of data from Clery Act reports, which log crimes on campuses.

“I would say there was probably less emphasis on officers to place those kinds of charges, knowing the place the state was headed,” Virginia Tech Police Chief Mac Babb said about recent marijuana cases, which makes up the bulk of drug offenses. “There wasn’t an emphasis to go out and do drug enforcement, I can tell you that.”

Preliminary data for 2020 show a significant drop-off in both arrests and student conduct referrals at Tech and Radford University, with the pandemic shuttering campuses in the spring likely playing a factor.

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