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Virginia Supreme Court Sidesteps Cannabis Dispute



The Virginia Supreme Court has been in session amidst an issue regarding cannabis possession and the conflict between a local prosecutor. The court claims that it can’t get involved, since it has not yet been asked to look at a specific case.

The conflict arose because Arlington-based Public Defender Brad Haywood claims that Deghani-Tafti has not been holding hearings for people who want to be released from jail or have lighter sentences due to cannabis possession.

However, the court has refused to take a stand on the issue, claiming that “a case or controversy is necessary to analyze whether the inferior court” overstepped, according to a court brief released on December 18. The court also wrote that it could not weigh in on the decision because Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti “has not identified a specific matter in which the circuit court has exceeded its jurisdictional boundaries.”

Dehghani-Tafti has made no secret of supporting cannabis decriminalization. However, when she started dropping cannabis-related cases from court, county judges questioned why she was not pursuing or changing charges. “The core of prosecutorial discretion lies not just in what to prosecute but also in what not to prosecute; not just when to start a case but also when to stop one,” Dehghani-Tafti wrote in an op-ed through The Washington Post, which published in August 2020. “The decision to dismiss cases (or nolle prosequi) is driven by factors such as lack of evidence, problems with the investigation, the defendant’s cooperation or allocation of resources—things that the prosecution is in the best position to know and that are not always appropriate to air publicly,” she wrote.

In response to Dehghani-Taft, the circuit court attorneys claimed it was “not unreasonable” to “promote efficient use of in-court hearing dates.”

However, Dehghani-Tafti was disappointed that the Virginia Supreme Court did not take more of a solid stance regarding such a hot-button issue. “I think the court could have and should have decided the issue, but what is clear is that the court left the door open for us to come back,” Dehghani-Tafti told The Washington Post.

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