RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — People 21 and older in Virginia are now allowed to have up to an ounce of marijuana on them and grow up to four cannabis plants in their homes, but those hoping to go into a dispensary to pick some up will have to wait until 2024.
The shift to legalization was expected to be a few years down the line but instead comes only a year after marijuana was decriminalized in Virginia. Republicans criticized the effort, calling it a rushed process, while Democrats argued racial disparities in enforcement existed even with decriminalization.
There is nuance and some ambiguous details within the legalization that has driven efforts to inform Virginians of the impending changes. Marijuana use and possession is still a federal offense, so people can’t travel across state lines with cannabis.
While some possession is legal, there are still key pieces of information Virginians need to know.
Marijuana possession limits & penalties
Anyone 21 and over can possess up to an ounce of marijuana or an equivalent amount of a cannabis product, such as edibles or vape oil.
Adults caught with more than an ounce on them in a public place will face a $25 civil penalty. Those with more than a pound of marijuana in their possession can be convicted of a felony that comes with at least a year in prison and up to a 10-year sentence and a $250,000 fine.
Anyone under 21 caught with marijuana could face up to a $25 fine and be ordered to enter a substance abuse treatment or education program.
The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the Virginia General Assembly’s watchdog agency, recommended changes on June 7 to add a misdemeanor possession charge if someone has more than the set limit of an ounce but less than a pound on them in public.
Where people can & can’t use cannabis
While recreational marijuana is now legal, people are not permitted to smoke wherever they want. Under the law, smoking cannabis will be permitted in private but not in public spaces.
Adults 21 and over who violate this rule will be subject to a fine of no more than $25 for a first offense. Violators will face a $25 fine and be required to enter a substance abuse or education program, or both, for a second offense. Those convicted of a third or subsequent offense will be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.
The penalty for consuming or possessing marijuana on school grounds is stricter, with those who are convicted being guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.
The rules for growing your own marijuana
Virginia residents ages 21 and over can now also start growing marijuana plants in their homes. The new law sets a limit of four plants per household, not for each person living in a home, and requires people to only grow in their main place of residence. A homeowner or landlord can prohibit renters from growing.
A $250 civil penalty will be imposed on residents with more than four plants but not more than 10. Virginians will be charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor for a second offense and a Class 2 misdemeanor for a third and any subsequent offense.
Those with more than 10 marijuana plants in their home but no more than 49 will face a Class 1 misdemeanor and a Class 6 felony for having 50 to 100. Cultivating over 100 marijuana plants in a home could result in a felony that comes with a year to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 penalty.
Marijuana plants can’t be visible in public and growers will have to attach a legible tag with their name, driver’s license or identification number and a note indicating the plant is being cultivated for personal use. Growers must also make efforts to keep their plants out of the range of those who are under 21.
Despite home-grown marijuana getting the green light, it will still be illegal to buy seeds, clones, flower or any part of a plant until retail sales begin in January 2024. Homeowners will also not be permitted to make marijuana concentrate.
What can homeowners associations restrict?
Homeowners associations can set restrictions on smoking but whether they can prohibit people from growing marijuana is unclear.
No provision under the new law mentions the authority of such associations over residents. And while there is a cap on how much can be cultivated within a home, growing marijuana plants is now legal.
Weed in the car
Smoking marijuana or consuming any cannabis product in a moving vehicle, whether you are the driver or a passenger, is still prohibited. Violators will face a Class 4 misdemeanor charge, which could come with a $250 fine.
The odor of marijuana in a car cannot be used as the sole reason for a search or charges, only if an “open container” is found in the passenger area of a vehicle or if a person’s appearance, speech, conduct or any other physical characteristic “is consistent with the consumption of marijuana or marijuana products.”
Similar to the rules for alcohol, Virginia’s new marijuana law defines an “open container” as any vessel containing the product that is not in “the originally sealed manufacturer’s container.” Unlike alcohol, the legal market for cannabis isn’t established, leaving people with a few options when driving with marijuana on them.
The passenger area does not include a trunk, locked glove compartment, the living area of a motor home or anywhere behind the last upright seat of a passenger van, station wagon, hatchback, SUV or similar vehicle. The policy has prompted advocates to issue warnings to only keep marijuana in a trunk or locked glove compartment when driving.
People hired to drive, whether it be a taxi, bus, limousine, Uber or Lyft, will not be allowed to carry marijuana with them when driving passengers — a violation that could come with a Class 1 misdemeanor — but won’t be held responsible if their passengers are in possession of cannabis. Public school bus drivers carrying marijuana on them while transporting children will also face a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Can adults share marijuana with each other?
Yes, adults 21 and over in Virginia can start sharing up to an ounce of marijuana (including cannabis products and seeds) with each other but just not in public spaces. Selling will still be prohibited so money cannot exchange hands and sharing must be done in private.
The new law has restrictions on exchanging marijuana for other items and bans the “gifting market” that exists in Washington D.C. where people buy legal items at a marked up price and get a free “gift” of cannabis.
Those who violate this rule or shares more than an ounce can be found guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor for a first offense and a Class 1 misdemeanor for a second or subsequent conviction.
Virginia’s plan to seal past criminal records
All records for misdemeanor simple possession of marijuana were sealed last year once Virginia decriminalized cannabis.
Starting now, the public will not be able to view criminal records of misdemeanor possession with the intent to distribute marijuana (arrests, charges and convictions) in Virginia State Police’s systems.
Virginia expects all records of arrests, charges and convictions for simple possession or misdemeanor possession with the intent to distribute to be sealed in all state and private databases by 2025.