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2020 Saw Big Changes in Virginia Marijuana Law, and Richmond Isn’t Done Yet

It’s been a little over eight years since Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. In the last national election cycle, voters in four states approved cannabis legalization. While Virginia has not legalized marijuana, the possession of a small amount was decriminalized on July 1, 2020. Keep reading for more recent developments. 

The Law As it Stands Right Now

As of late March 2021, simple possession of marijuana (less than one ounce) is a non-jailable offense. Those found with less than an ounce of marijuana in Virginia are presumed to have it for personal use and are only subject to a $25 fine. This is a civil violation and is not a criminal event that goes on one’s criminal record. In another departure from previous law, multiple possession violations of less than one ounce will no longer lead to more severe penalties. 

Another notable development in marijuana law took effect on March 1, 2021. Officers are no longer permitted to conduct searches or seizures if they smell what they believe to be marijuana after pulling over someone. In other words, marijuana odor cannot be the sole basis for the search or seizure of someone in the commonwealth. Exceptions are for drivers of commercial vehicles and in the state’s airports. 

Looking Ahead

In late February 2021, both the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates passed a bill that would legalize up to one ounce of marijuana—no more $25 fines. Those in possession of more than an ounce but less than a pound will still be dealing with a civil violation, though, which carries the $25 penalty. Underage marijuana use (for those under 21) or public consumption is also a civil violation. If the bill passes as is, you would also be allowed to grow two mature and two immature cannabis plants at your primary residence. 

The current bill, which is heading to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk, targets the beginning of 2024 as the date for marijuana legalization. Gov. Northam has publicly expressed his support for legalization, but it remains to be seen whether he approves of the bill in its current form. 

Selling, Manufacturing, and Trafficking is Still Illegal

While restrictions surrounding marijuana have been significantly loosened in Virginia, even possessing more than a few pounds can land you in prison for a long time. Selling or trafficking more than one ounce, but less than five pounds, is punishable by up to 10 years in prison along with a $2,500 fine. In some marijuana cases, mandatory minimum sentences apply. 

With the rapidly changing environment surrounding cannabis in Virginia, it helps to have an attorney who is on top of the latest laws that affect these types of criminal charges. Norton Pelt is a firm you can trust during one of the most difficult times of your life. We will Represent You with the Strength of the Mountain


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