Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring calls to decriminalize marijuana, Southwest Virginia reacts

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Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said Sunday that it’s time Virginia decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Herring says first time marijuana convictions in Virginia rose by 53 percent from 2008 to 2017. 

But while Virginias’ top attorney, a democrat, is pushing for change- Wise County’s Commonwealth Attorney, Chuck Slemp, thinks the AG needs to stick to his job and not propose new legislation.‚Äč

Chuck Slemp, a republican, says he opposes decriminalizing pot for one main reason.

“Well my concern is that it would make us less safe,” Slemp said.

Slemp says he has not seen an increase in marijuana arrests in Wise County and continues to worry about the spike in opioids.  He also worries about laced marijuana being overlooked if marijuana is decriminalized.

“Narcotics agents they are too busy enforcing other drugs to focus primarily on marijuana,” Slemp said.

Independent candidate for Virginia State Senate Ken Heath says a big issue facing Southwest Virginia is the cost to maintain jails, which could be alleviated with the attorney general’s proposal.

“It frees up law officers time,” Heath said. “It frees up court time. It frees up jail time.”

Heath who’s from Marion, Virginia faces Todd Pillion in the senate race in November.

If decriminalizing pot becomes a campaign issue, Heath says he’s convinced of one thing.

“We are never going to be able to arrest our way out of a drug problem,” Heath said. “We have got to find a way to do it.”

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