In early April 2021, Virginia lawmakers passed a bill that legalized the recreational use of marijuana. This makes Virginia the first state in the south to legalize marijuana. The bill was publicly backed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in November 2020. And he has been involved with the bill since. The legalization process was a back-and-forth affair between the Virginia House and Senate, with Northam adding amendments to the bill right before its approval.
Marijuana in Virginia will be legal starting July 1.
The new law allows adults 21 and over to use and grow marijuana. Additionally, the state has plans to launch a legal and regulated market by 2024. The bill also addresses those with past marijuana convictions by allowing them to request lower penalties or have their records be sealed. This is a great step towards the inequality that still exists in the world and market of cannabis.
So what exactly does the new bill in Virginia allow and not allow?
New Law, New Penalties
This new bill allows the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for people 21 and older. Adults caught with more than an ounce, but less than a pound will face a $25 fine. And adults caught with more than a pound can face from 1 to 10 years in prison or a $250,000 fine.
People under the age of 21 caught with marijuana will face a $25 fine. They will also be enrolled in a mandatory substance abuse treatment and education program. Public consumption or offering marijuana to others will also be illegal, regardless of the reason. First offenses may result in a $25 fine. Second offenses would include a mandatory drug treatment program. And finally, third offenses would be charged as a Class 4 misdemeanor. Additionally, any adult caught possessing marijuana on public K-12 school grounds would classify as a Class 2 misdemeanor.
Although marijuana retail sales are not yet permitted and won’t start any time soon, the new law allows adults to give other adults up to an ounce.
Legislators did not want to rush into establishing a market. They declared that setting the year 2024 would give them enough time to set proper rules and regulations for a legal marketplace. There are still many unanswered questions relating to retail sales. For example, how will the distribution of licenses work? And how much say will local governments have in where businesses locate themselves? They’ve also denied existing medical marijuana producers from starting retail sales earlier. They claim it would give them an unfair head start in the marketplace.
Growing your own
Seeing as retail sales will begin in 2024, the only legal way to get marijuana in Virginia would be to grow your own or receiving it as a gift from someone who does.
The bill allows growing up to 4 plants per household. The plants must be properly tagged with information on the grower’s name and driver’s license or identification number. They must also have a note stating it’s for personal growth. Additionally, the growing plants should not be visible from the public street. This means you can’t grow them in your front yard. Precautions should also be made so that minors can not access your growing marijuana plants. Unfortunately, the bill does not specify what those precautions may be.
Transporting in your car
Under the new legislation, it is illegal to have an “open container” in your car. In order to address the issue of driving under the influence, the bill creates a presumption that having an open container in the vehicle means consumption of marijuana. The bill also defines an open container as “any vessel containing marijuana except the originally sealed manufacturer’s container.”
Since retail sales don’t begin until 2024, what does this mean for people who carry their greens in a ziplock or any other common container?
According to Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of the Virginia National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana, it’s best to keep it in your trunk.
Fortunately, the legislation also provides the automatic sealing of misdemeanor marijuana convictions. It also creates a petition-based process for those with more serious charges to clear their record.
The downside is that this process begins with an update in the state computer systems. This means it’s currently unclear when this will go into effect. Lawmakers have also delayed on deciding whether people currently serving time in prison for marijuana-related crimes can petition to have their sentence reduced.
Virginia is now one of the 16 states to legalize recreational marijuana. Only time will tell how this will affect the current cannabis market and whether or not there will be a federal level of marijuana legalization.