What do I need to know about Virginia’s new marijuana law?
As of July 1, 2021 it is no longer illegal to possess small amounts of marijuana in Virginia. Advocates who pushed for the repeal of the law which makes simple possession a criminal offense say it will help balance racial disparities that are present with enforcement efforts. Critics of the repeal have voiced concerns that this change to the law was rushed and will lead to additional social and legal problems. The most immediate and pressing problem that people will face as a result of the change to the law is the possible misinterpretation of what is now permitted and what is not. It is important for Virginians to have a basic understanding of what the law does and does not allow as it applies to marijuana.
When is it legal to possess and use marijuana in Virginia?
The law applies in very specific situations. The following are some basic guidelines:
- The person possessing marijuana or a similar cannabis-based substance like edibles, must be at least 21 years old.
- The law allows for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. Anything over one ounce can, under certain circumstances, be presumed to be for distribution purposes and can subject the possessor to possible legal sanctions.
- While the law does permit the private possession of marijuana, people are not permitted to use or smoke marijuana in public places.
It is important to note that the use of or simple possession of marijuana in certain places, like schools, is still highly illegal and can come with significant legal penalties. Further, it is illegal to sell or distribute any quantity of marijuana to a minor and persons who do so can face large prison sentences.
What happens if I break the law?
While the simple possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is now legal, it is not legal in every single situation and even an honest mistake about the quantity of marijuana possessed can still lead to criminal charges. If, for example, police catch anyone under the age of 21 with marijuana, that person would still be subject to a fine and be sent to a substance abuse treatment or education program.
Further, although it is no longer illegal to possess small quantities of marijuana, it is still highly illegal to sell it. While lawmakers anticipate the introduction laws regulating the sale of marijuana to go into effect after January 1, 2024 there is really no legal way to purchase or buy marijuana legally in the Commonwealth of Virginia. While the law does allow people in Virginia to grow their own marijuana, this allowance is limited to four plants per household and only for personal use. Selling or distributing personal use marijuana to other people can still result in criminal charges.
Anyone who sells or distributes small quantities of marijuana can face misdemeanor charges which can carry up to a year in jail. Anyone who sells more than an ounce but less than 5 pounds of marijuana can face felony charges which carry up to 10 years in jail. Anyone found selling or distributing more than five pounds of marijuana can face a potential prison sentence of up to 30 years. Anyone who provides or distributes even a small amount marijuana to a minor can face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of two years.
State leaders are still ironing out a lot of the details that guide the application of this law. It is important that anyone who is accused of any type of violation of the law make sure the police are applying the law accurately. You do not need to figure this out on your own and can, instead, consult with an attorney who can answer your questions and advocate for your interests. Knowledgeable, experienced counsel can ensure that your legal rights are protected and that you are treated fairly throughout the process.