LYNCHBURG (AP) The Virginia Department of Forensic Science will no longer process marijuana in its labs for evidence in misdemeanor cases in an effort to limit the number of backlogged drug cases.
Starting on Jan. 1, the state agency will discontinue the routine analysis of marijuana plant material in simple possession cases without a court order. The lab will continue to analyze pipes and other smoking devices for marijuana residue.
The department announced the changes in its marijuana analysis policy late last month. For suspected marijuana plant material, law enforcement officers can testify in court on their field test results, and the test results are generally admissible.
According to a press release announcing the move, state forensics director Linda Jackson said the policy change will result in “more efficient and effective operations” and allow the agency to reduce the amount of overtime.
In the last year, the average turnaround time in controlled substance cases neared 70 days, compared with an average of 19 days in 2010. And data show the backlog of drug cases at the state forensics laboratories nearly quadrupled in controlled substances since September 2010.
The News & Advance reported that the cases include drugs confiscated from people, which contributes to the high number of cases involving drugs in Virginia, Jackson said. The department had received 32,063 controlled substances cases this year as of Sept. 30, and completed 30,189 of those cases.
The number of cases received and completed remained fairly steady in the other six categories in the department, including toxicology and forensic biology.
In addition to the changes in marijuana evidence, the department plans to hire two forensic scientists in its laboratories and also will add new instrumentation to the labs for efficiency.
This post was revised Nov. 3 to clarify that the revised policy applies only to marijuana plant material, not to residue analysis.