Virginia is legalizing marijuana, becoming the first Southern state to allow some forms of recreational weed. The new laws went into effect July 1st, but it’s best to know what’s allowed and what will still get you in trouble, says attorney Rebecca Wade, a partner at Alexandria-based Wade, Grimes, Friedman, Meinken & Leischner.
The legalization is actually a very incremental step, explains Wade, allowing adults 21 and over to possess one ounce of marijuana---as long as they don’t try to sell it to others. You can give away or share up to one ounce with others. In addition, you can also grow up to four plants per household for personal use. But there are new rules that come with the changes, and keep in mind marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
WADE CLEARS THE HAZE ON WEED
Marijuana in Public: Consuming or offering marijuana to people in public remains a no-no, says Wade, though the consequences are much less severe with the new laws. A first offense can mean a $25 fine; a second offense adds mandatory drug treatment; a third offense constitutes a Class 4 misdemeanor. Possession on the grounds of a public K-12 school, while it’s open, constitutes a Class 2 misdemeanor. Wade’s take: “It’s not suddenly open season for marijuana lovers to sell or consume /as much as they want, wherever they want. Don’t carry an ‘open container’ of it in your car. And never drive under the influence.”
Gifting Small Amounts: It’s okay to gift up to an ounce of marijuana to an adult, in private. However, adults caught with more than a pound can be charged with a felony punishable by one to 10 years in prison plus a fine of up to $250,000.
Green Thumbs: Cultivating up to four plants per household is allowed, but they can’t be visible from a public street — and don’t let minors get at them. Each plant must be tagged with the grower’s name, driver’s license or state identification number, and a notation that it is being grown for personal use. Getting caught growing more than four plants brings an escalating range of penalties, from a $250 fine for 5–10 plants to felony charges for 50+ plants.
SOCIAL EQUITY PROVISIONS HELP MINORITY COMMUNITIES
Clean Slate: Virginians with past misdemeanor marijuana convictions can have them automatically sealed, and there’s now a petition-based process enabling people convicted of more serious charges to attempt to clear their records.
Retail Licensing Preference: When legislation is introduced next year to permit retail sales of marijuana starting in 2024, it will include a category of "social equity" applicants (e.g., people with past marijuana-related charges or graduates of historically Black colleges and universities) who will get preference when applying for a marijuana retailer’s license.
THE LAW AFFECTS EMPLOYERS, TOO
Employers are not expressly prohibited from restricting or monitoring the recreational use of marijuana by their employees.
A related Virginia law regarding cannabis oil use, which also takes effect July 1, says employers cannot discharge, discipline, or discriminate against employees who lawfully use cannabis oil when they have a valid written certification for its use to treat a diagnosed condition or disease. But this law does not:
“Restrict an employer’s ability to take any adverse employment action for any work impairment caused by the use of cannabis oil or to prohibit possession during work hours”;
“Require an employer to commit any act that would cause the employer to be in violation of federal law or that would result in the loss of a federal contract or federal funding”; and
“Require any defense industrial base sector employer or prospective employer, as defined by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, to hire or retain any applicant or employee who tests positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in excess of 50 ng/ml for a urine test or 10 pg/mg for a hair test.”
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