Virginia is one of the three states that legalized recreational marijuana within the last two months. However, the Old Dominion decision is particularly significant since it is expected to send a strong message to other states in the Old South, a region has always been notoriously anti-cannabis.
Last April, Gov. Ralph Northam finally signed legislation that legalizes recreational marijuana in his state. Under HB 2312 and SB 1406, which were reconciled earlier this year and amended afterward by the governor, adults in Virginia aged 21 and older may possess up to an ounce in public and cultivate up to 4 plants per household.
The new law was initially set to take effect on January 1, 2024, but the governor pushed to move up the date to July 1 this year, arguing it would be a mistake to continue penalizing people when marijuana is bound to be legalized anyway. However, retail sales are expected to begin in 2024 at the earliest.
This month also saw the approval of two bills, HB 2113 and SB 1339, that would lead to the automatic expungement of criminal records for past marijuana offenses.
Overview of Virginia Marijuana Laws
Medical marijuana has been legal in Virginia since 2017 under SB 976 while its new recreational use laws will take effect on July 1, 2021.
- Possession – Possession of over an ounce to less than a pound has been reduced to a civil violation punishable by a mere $25.
- Sale/Distribution – Selling and distributing marijuana in Virginia is a felony but strangely enough, possession of large amounts isn’t automatically considered as proof of intent to distribute.
- 1 oz to 5 lbs – A mandatory minimum sentence of 1 year up to 10 years and/or a fine of up to $2500.
- More than 5 lbs to 100 kg – A mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years up to 30 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
- More than 100 kg – A mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years to life imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $100,000.
- To a minor who is at least 3 years younger – A mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years up to 50 years and/or a fine of up to $100,000.
- Within 1000 ft of a school or school bus stop – A mandatory minimum sentence of 1 year up to 5 years and/or a fine of up to $100,000.
- Transporting more than 5 lbs into the state – A mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years up to 40 years and/or a fine of up to $1,000,000.
- Cultivation – Virginia’s new marijuana laws dictate that homegrown plants should not be visible from a public way without the use of aircraft, binoculars, or other optical aids. The plants should also be grown in a space that can prevent unauthorized access by minors younger than 21. Each plant must bear a legible tag that includes the person’s name, driver’s license or ID number, and a notation that the plant is being grown for personal use. Growing marijuana in excess of the legal limit is considered manufacturing, which is a felony punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years up to 30 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
History of Marijuana in Virginia
The recent developments in Virginia are not as surprising considering the state’s history with marijuana. Medical marijuana became somewhat legal as early as 1979 when legislation allowing doctors to recommend cannabis for glaucoma or chemotherapy side effects got passed. However, it was practically a stalemate that did not do anything for marijuana reform since cannabis prescriptions were strictly banned under federal law at that time. In 1997 there were also attempts to have the law repealed but it did not happen. It is also worth noting that in the 90’s, the state also had some of the least restrictive penalties for home cultivation which was considered as mere possession, an offense punishable by only a $25 fine.
Although marijuana is now decriminalized in Virginia, it only happened fairly recently. One of the first notable attempts to pass a decriminalization bill was in 2015 and although it failed, bills for affirmative defense against possession of CBD and THC-A oil for epilepsy, HB 1445 and SB 1235, were signed into law in the same year.
However, marijuana reform in Virginia only really began to see real progress after Democrats won control of both houses of the General Assembly. In July 2020, the state finally got a full-fledged marijuana program that protected patients from arrests. In the same year, SB 2/HB 972, which decriminalized possession of less than an ounce, got signed into law.
Marijuana in Virginia has since continued to grow leaps and bounds. This year alone saw the approval of HB 2218 and SB 1333 that allows patients to use whole-plant marijuana, a host of other decriminalization bills, and most importantly, the passage of two recreational marijuana bills that got signed into law by Gov. Northam, a Democrat who has always been in support of marijuana reform.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of Virginia
How does Virginia’s marijuana laws compare with home growing laws in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in Virginia
Adults aged 21 and older in Virginia are now allowed to cultivate up to 4 cannabis plants per household.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Virginia since 2017 under Senate Bill 976.
Adult patients and caregivers are allowed to grow up to 4 plants per household.
Virginians are allowed to grow marijuana at home indoors, in a locked space, away from public view.
Adults need to be at least 21 years old to grow marijuana at home in Virginia.
Although it might take a few years before revenues from recreational marijuana can revitalize Virginia’s economy, the state’s new rules will surely make an impact on the unfolding marijuana policies of its neighbors who are notoriously opposed to legalization. While tax revenue and home cultivation is nice, the policy change will more importantly address the disparate treatment of people of color under the previous marijuana laws.