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Virginia includes new criminal possession penalties in latest state budget

Starting July 1st, 2021, adults over 21 will be able to legally up to an ounce of marijuana without criminal or civil penalty in Virginia. Each household may also grow up to four plants.

Virginia also allows an adult to transfer up to an ounce of cannabis to another adult. Possession of over an ounce could result in a civil penalty of $25. Possession of a pound or more of cannabis could result in felony charges. No one under the age of 21 may legally consume or purchase marijuana.

Virginia citizens’ interest in cannabis generally falls into one of three subcategories: they want to use marijuana for medical reasons, use it for recreational purposes, and create an environment where the legal implications of possession do not exist. This last constituency does not want to have marginalized groups disproportionally harmed by cannabis penalties and laws. Black Virginians have disproportionally higher percentages of arrests and convictions for marijuana possession. The average arrest rate for possession among Black Virginians was 3.5 times higher than the arrest for other racial and ethnic groups. The conviction rate was 3.9 times higher than for white Virginians.

Users of marijuana may do so in private residences, but property owners or managers may also restrict use. Several college campuses, such as Virginia Tech, have banned the use of cannabis on campus as long as it remains illegal under federal law. Many universities and colleges have policies that eliminate or remove federal funding if their students violate the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act.

Advocates for medical and recreational marijuana believe Virginia could net as much as $300 million per year from cannabis taxes.

Virginia became the 15th state, alongside the District of Columbia, to legalize recreational cannabis smoking. Initially, the legalization was to start in 2024, but Governor Northam changed the date to July 1st, 2021. However, this date applies to possession only. The original legislation had Virginia legalizing possession and creating retrial sales on January 1st2024. Still, legislators and the governor felt it was unfair to leave possession laws on the books for two more years and changed the legalization date to 2021. Retail sales and the establishment of dispensaries are still slated for January 1st 2024, unless the law is modified.

While retail sales of cannabis are still not legal in Virginia, adults can share up to one ounce of marijuana with other adults 21 and over. It will continue to be illegal for people under 21 to possess or consume cannabis in the state. And not one can, at this date, sell marijuana to any adult. Virginians wish to regulate cannabis much as the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (Virginia ABC). Virginia kept basic safety measures in place, like prohibiting the use of marijuana in a vehicle or on school grounds. Passengers in vehicles cannot consume marijuana, either.

In June 2021, Virginia published a website that educates residents about the new law and details any legal restrictions still in place in the state. Limitations include possession of cannabis on school grounds or in a commercial vehicle.

Authorities in Virginia believe the new law will protect public health and safety in several ways. The newly created Cannabis Control Authority developed the Cannabis Public Health Advisory to research and compile health data related to the responsible adult consumption of cannabis. The research group will study the health risks associated with cannabis consumption, especially risks related to how cannabis might affect driving and other vehicular matters. The group will also examine how cannabis consumption might make people ineligible for some employment opportunities.

The CCA is the leader in developing health, safety, and safe driving campaigns and collaborates with several other state agencies. In addition, the CCA will provide guidance to home cultivators to keep minors safe.

The cannabis.virginia.gov website also details the rules for “adult-sharing” of marijuana. There can be no instance where marijuana is exchanged for remuneration or for sharing in exchange for another valuable good. Legal “adult sharing” may not occur when the marijuana is exchanged contemporaneously with a reciprocal transaction between the two parties sharing. The sharing of marijuana may not be offered or advertised together with an offer for the sale of goods or services or as part of an exchange transaction of other goods and services. There is no legal transaction in Virginia that includes cannabis in exchange for money.

Home Cultivation Rules

The website also details the rules regarding legal cultivation in the home. Growers can not sell or purchase marijuana seeds. Home cultivators may grow up to four plants at any given time in your primary residence. The plants must not be visible to the public in any way. Growers must take precautions to ensure minors cannot access the plants. Each plant must have a tag that includes the person’s name, driver’s license or ID number, and a notation that the marijuana plant is being grown for personal use as authorized by law. It is illegal to grow more than four plants at any given time. A grower may not sell or distribute marijuana grown at home. Home growers cannot manufacture marijuana concentrates under the penalty of law.

In addition, Virginia’s cannabis law website discusses the critical issues related to medical cannabis. The patient must have an unexpired written medical marijuana certification from a board-registered practitioner and an active patient registration issued by the Board of Pharmacy. However, by July 1, 2022, patients will no longer be required to have a patient registration. To obtain a medical card for medical marijuana, complete an application with the Virginia Board of Pharmacy. This webpage is a good source of information for medical marijuana candidates and their families, including registration information for medical marijuana candidates.

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