On Wednesday, April 7th, 2021, Virginia's Legislature passed a bill legalizing the use and possession of recreational marijuana in small amounts. The legislation, which makes Virginia the 16th state to legalize the use of marijuana in controlled amounts, was widely celebrated by legalization advocates.
However, the bill isn't a free license for Virginians to use marijuana in any capacity. Depending on the circumstances, marijuana users could still face legal penalties. Today, we're exploring the ins and outs of how legalization will impact the state once it kicks into effect on July 1st.
What's Legal Under the New Legislation?
Under the new legislation, individuals over the age of 21 can have an ounce or less of marijuana in their possession while in Virginia.
However, selling or buying marijuana in the state will be difficult. Currently, the state government plans to establish an agency called the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority (VCCA). The VCCA aims to oversee the construction of a commercial marijuana market in Virginia, but it could take years before state residents have consistent access to recreational marijuana. The state will start taking applications for retail licenses on July 1st, 2023, meaning sales probably won't go into effect until early 2024.
However, each Virginia household can now cultivate up to four marijuana plants as long as they're inaccessible to children. While there are no regulations for selling marijuana legally, adults can gift another adult up to an ounce of marijuana.
Additionally, driving with marijuana in the car is still illegal, even if the driver only owns an ounce or less of the substance.
In essence, Virginians can now grow and partake in marijuana in the safety of their homes in a limited capacity. However, the state is still years away from establishing a viable commercial market for the substance, and individuals found transporting marijuana in their vehicles may still face criminal charges.
What Happens if I Own More than an Ounce?
Individuals found in possession of between an ounce and a pound of marijuana could face civil charges and a fine of up to $25.
Individuals who own more than a pound of marijuana may face felony charges, resulting in a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000.
Additionally, individuals found possessing marijuana on public school grounds could face class 2 misdemeanor charges, resulting in up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
What About Individuals Serving Sentences for Marijuana Charges?
Currently, individuals convicted of marijuana-related drug crimes cannot have their records expunged.
However, the state will begin removing arrests, charges, and convictions for possessing or selling marijuana from public view, giving more privacy to individuals facing such charges. By July 1st, 2025, the state has mandated that all such marijuana-related charges must be removed from public view.
Depending on the circumstances of the case, it may also be possible for individuals with felony drug crime convictions related to marijuana to have that evidence removed from public view.
Next year, when the Virginia General Assembly meets, legislators will continue discussing whether individuals convicted of marijuana possession, selling, or buying prior to its legalization can pursue expungement for those charges, removing them from their record.
What Are Opinions on the Legalization?
While numerous legalization advocates are happy to see recreational marijuana legalized in some capacity, many argue that it doesn't go far enough to actually protect the use of recreational marijuana in Virginia. Legalization advocates also argue that the state is dragging its feet in allowing citizens convicted of marijuana-related crimes to pursue expungement.
Additionally, economic proponents of legalization have taken issue with the timeline for a commercial marijuana industry in Virginia, arguing that the sooner a market is established, the sooner the state can begin reaping profits from it.
Conversely, individuals opposed to legalization on various grounds are unhappy with the loosening of marijuana-related drug laws, and are likely to push back against expungement for individuals convicted of marijuana-related crimes and the expansion of a commercial marijuana market when the General Assembly convenes to discuss such matters next year.
At the Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller, we represent Virginians during drug crimes cases. To receive the legal counsel you deserve for your case, contact us online or via phone at (757) 267-4949.