Virginia legalized it; mere hours from now, you will legally be able to possess small amounts of marijuana within the commonwealth. But can you legally buy it? Grow it? Well, that’s complicated. Let RVA Mag break it down for you.
Beginning July 1, 2020, adults in Virginia aged 21 years old or older will be able to legally possess and cultivate small amounts of marijuana, in the privacy of their own homes, for recreational purposes. It’s a monumental move for a Southern state — particularly considering that legalization was originally slated to be delayed until 2024.
The legalization bill is nuanced, as 283-page documents tend to be. It’s also peppered with contradictions: you can grow weed, but you can’t legally purchase the seeds or clippings needed to do so. Possessing more than one ounce (28.3 grams) of pot is illegal, but you can own up to 4 plants (which will, in theory, produce more weed than the legal limit allows). And while the law legalizes simple possession of marijuana, there’s no way to legally purchase it for recreational use.
To that end, RVAMag spoke with Jenn Michelle Pedini, the Development Director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and Executive Director of Virginia NORML, about the law’s discrepancies, nuances, and what you can and can’t do.
Now that weed is legal, how can I legally obtain it?
You can’t — unless you have a medical card. Until the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority licenses adult-use retailers (expected to take place in 2024), the only way to legally purchase marijuana in the Commonwealth is if you are a registered medical patient shopping at one of the state’s four licensed medical cannabis dispensaries. (You can find a practitioner and get certified for the state’s medical cannabis program here.)
Other legal options include growing marijuana yourself or receiving it as a gift from someone who grows.
Illegal options include finding weed the good ol’ fashioned way via Virginia’s black market, the fourth-largest illicit market in the nation.
Can I smoke in public?
No. You’ll receive a $25 fine if you’re caught using marijuana or offering it to others in public. A second offense would require you to participate in a mandatory drug treatment program, while a third offense is a Class 4 Misdemeanor.
Possessing marijuana on school grounds or on a school bus is also still illegal.
Can my employer still fire me for smoking weed?
Yes. While there are some protections for card-carrying registered medical cannabis patients, recreational marijuana users are not protected from employment discrimination. That means your employer can still drug test and fire you at will if you test positive for marijuana.
I’m under 21; what happens if I’m caught with marijuana?
People under age 21 caught in possession of marijauana will face a $25 fine and mandatory substance abuse program or education.
I’m an adult; what happens if I’m caught with more than an ounce of marijuana?
Adults caught with more than an ounce but less than one pound of marijuana will face a $25 fine.
Adults caught with more than a pound are subject to felony charges, punishable by between one and 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Will Washington D.C.’s “gifting” economy happen in Virginia?
The unregulated marijuana “gifting economy” in Washington D.C. is infamous. Selling marijuana is technically illegal in DC, but delivery services and retailers are able to distribute weed to consumers by including it as a “totally unrelated” “free gift” alongside, for example, a $75 sticker, $45 t-shirt, or a $120 keychain.
Virginia lawmakers are well aware of this loophole and explicitly banned it in the state’s legalization bill: “Adult sharing” does not include instances in which (i) marijuana is given away contemporaneously with another reciprocal transaction between the same parties; (ii) a gift of marijuana is offered or advertised in conjunction with an offer for the sale of goods or services; or (iii) a gift of marijuana is contingent upon a separate reciprocal transaction for goods or services,” the bill states.
Can you transport marijuana in a car?
Drivers or passengers may not consume or possess an open container of cannabis while a vehicle is in operation — but it’s not totally clear what an “open container” means. That’s because Virginia’s legalization law was written under the assumption that regulated retail sales, and thus regulated containers, would already be established. That’s not the case.
“The entire concept of a container is different for marijuana than it is for alcohol,” said Sen. Scott Surovell told VPM. “If you were buying marijuana from a retail location, it would probably come in a labeled and marked bag with somebody’s name on it, with the weight shown. It would be a little easier to figure out if the so-called container had been opened or not.”
For now, Pedini recommends anyone transporting cannabis in a vehicle to ensure that it is in “a completely sealed and locked container” in the trunk of your vehicle or in the area behind the last seats.
“It’s pretty easy to stay within the context of the law by following these guidelines,” Pedini says.
Will prior marijuana possession charges and convictions be sealed?
Simple possession of marijuana records were sealed in 2020, and all records of misdemeanor possession with intent to distribute marijuana will be automatically sealed from public view in the Virginia State Police’s systems on July 1, 2021.
Meanwhile, “after several state entities overhaul record-keeping systems” all records, including records of arrests, charges, and convictions, for simple possession of marijuana or misdemeanor possession with the intent to distribute will be automatically sealed across all state and private databases. The state says that process will happen by July 2025.
A process is also being created to allow those convicted of more serious marijuana charges — like felony possession with intent to distribute — to seal their records as well.
Will people in prison for marijuana charges be released?
No, at least not immediately. Despite the fact that marijuana will be legal, people currently incarcerated on marijuana-related charges will remain behind bars.
Lawmakers discussed implementing a provision that would allow judges to amend the sentences of already incarcerated people, but the provision failed to pass. It will be revisited in 2022.
“Now we’re going to be in a situation where you’ve got people still sitting in jail for the very thing that we’ve already legalized,” said Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, who co-sponsored the legislation. “It makes no sense to me.”