In early April, Virginia became the 16th state to legalize cannabis. Virginia’s General Assembly approved a legalization bill that goes into effect on July 1. Virginia is the first state in the South to take this step, signaling what could be the demise of prohibition’s last stand. Keep reading to learn more about Virginia’s marijuana laws.
Virginia Possession and Purchasing Limits
Beginning on July 1, it is legal for adults aged 21 and over to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis. Certain violations of this possession limit are now civil infractions – adults caught with over an ounce but less than a pound will have to pay a $25 fine. Anyone aged 21 or younger caught with cannabis will also face a $25 fine and mandated enrollment in a substance abuse education course. Possession of over a pound of cannabis is still a felony. Convictions can result in up to 10 years of prison time and a maximum fine of $250,000. If you’re caught possessing cannabis on the grounds of a public K-12 school, you could be convicted of a Class 2 misdemeanor. Although possession of an ounce or less of cannabis will be legal in just a couple of months, you’ll have to wait until Jan. 1, 2024, to buy weed from a licensed dispensary. So how do you get weed until then? The law permits legally aged adults to “gift” up to 1 ounce of weed to other legally aged adults. If your cousin’s got cannabis and gives it to you for free, that’s a legal transaction. Virginia’s law prohibits the loophole Washington D.C. cannabis entrepreneurs have discovered—the over-priced sale of legal merchandise that comes with a “free gift” of cannabis.
Weed Consumption Rules in Virginia
Public cannabis consumption is prohibited. You can’t give weed to someone in public either, even if you’re offering someone less than an ounce of it for free. If you’re caught smoking or handing weed off in public, you’ll have to pay $25. If you’re caught a second time, you’ll pay that fee and have to take mandatory drug treatment. A subsequent offense would be categorized as a Class 4 misdemeanor.
Can Weed Get You a DUI in Virginia?
Detecting cannabis intoxication is much more difficult than testing for drunk driving. So Virginia lawmakers made their jobs easier by allowing law enforcement officers to presume cannabis consumption if an “open container” of cannabis is found in a vehicle’s cabin. So what constitutes an open container? According to the law, it’s “any vessel containing marijuana except the originally sealed manufacturer’s container.” If you’re transporting cannabis, keep it in the trunk of your vehicle to avoid being charged a DUI.
Exporting Cannabis in and Out of Virginia
It’s federally illegal to carry cannabis across state lines. But medical marijuana is legal in Maryland and West Virginia states that each touch Virginia’s northern border. Is it legal to travel to and from Virginia with medical marijuana if you’re a registered MMJ patient? No—you would be violating federal and state drug trafficking laws if you were to do so even though cannabis is legal for medicinal use in each of those states. If you don’t want to risk it, leave your weed at home.
Is Home Cultivation Legal in Virginia?
You can grow your own cannabis plants at home as long you follow a few simple stipulations:
- Grow no more than four plants per household.
- Keep view of your plants hidden from public view.
- Take “precautions” to prevent minors from accessing your cannabis (the law doesn’t specify what those precautions should be).
- Label each plant with your name, driver’s license or state ID number, and an explanation that the plant is being grown for personal use.
Anyone caught growing more than four plants in their home can face a range of penalties:
- A fine of up to $250 for more than four plants but less than 11
- Felony charges for more than 50 plants
Manufacturing your own concentrates is prohibited. It’s also unclear how lawmakers expect people to get their hands on seeds for personal cultivation since cannabis sales and exporting cannabis are illegal.
Cannabis arrests are one of the primary drivers of mass incarceration. As in the rest of the country, the enforcement of cannabis prohibition has disproportionately targeted Black people. According to the ACLU, Black people are 3.4 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people. In some Virginia counties, the disparity is atrociously high:
- Washington County, Black people are 12.2 times as likely to be arrested as white people
- Hanover County, Black people are 20.7 times as likely to be arrested as white people
- Smyth County – Black people are 16.1 times as likely to be arrested as white people
Given that Black and white people consume cannabis at similar rates, these numbers demonstrate the structural racism of cannabis prohibition. Virginia’s cannabis legislation creates a pathway for sealing past misdemeanor cannabis convictions. It also allows people with more severe cannabis convictions to petition to clear their records. However, there is no timeline for when these expungement measures will be completed. It’s also unclear if people currently serving time for cannabis crimes will be allowed to petition for resentencing. In states like New York, lawmakers are responding to the racial injustice of cannabis prohibition by incorporating social equity into the law. Such initiatives allow demographics disproportionately targeted by the war on drugs to access licensing discounts, training, legal assistance, and low-interest funding. General Assembly Democrats are pushing for the inclusion of social equity provisions as regulations are developed. It’s not clear if these measures will be included. The regulatory framework guiding license distribution will not be finalized until 2024.