Here's our guide on what's legal now—and what still isn't.
On July 1, Virginia legalized adult recreational use of marijuana. "The time has come," House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria said in April. But buying or selling it, "other than under the state's medical marijuana program ... is still illegal," WTOP reported. Wait—what?
Creating a "legal marijuana marketplace" (the state's ultimate goal) requires regulation, and since legal recreational marijuana is a whole new ball game in Virginia, the state has only just begun setting up a "new state entity" to do so. It will be an anticipated two and a half years until buying and selling marijuana is legal in Virginia, with commercial production and sale of marijuana expected to begin on January 1, 2024.
Legalizing it years before commercializing it "ensure[s] that while we’re doing the complicated work of standing up a commercial market, we aren’t delaying immediate reforms that will make our Commonwealth more equitable for all Virginians," Herring explained.
So what is legalized about marijuana, if you can't buy it and you can't sell it?
The Virginia Mercury clarified "the only legal way to get weed for recreational purposes will be to grow it yourself or receive it as a gift from someone who does." WTOP further stated that "adults may legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana and can grow up to four plants per household."
Growing your own cannabis, however, comes with stipulations. The plants can't be "visible from a public street," and precautions must be "taken to prevent unauthorized access by minors—though the bill doesn’t specify what those precautions should entail." In addition, 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." If you're discovered to have 5-10 plants, you could face a $250 fine—and if you have over 50, you could face felony charges.
While there's "no legal way to purchase seeds or cuttings, though they could be gifted under the law ...regulators apparently (adopt) a don't ask, don't tell policy." And while "one plant could easily produce several times ... the possession limit of one ounce," Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, "doubted many would-be cultivators would successfully grow more than an ounce."
While you should be careful, you shouldn't need to be too alarmed—Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML (the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform Marijuana Laws), explained to The Virginia Mercury "that the language limiting possession to one ounce applies only to amounts held on a someone’s person or in public." They clarified, "The legislative intent is to prohibit you from walking down the street with more than an ounce of it."
Apart from your (up to) four plants, if caught with "more than an ounce but less than a pound," you face a $25 fine. If caught with more than a pound, the penalty is exponential—you can be charged "with a felony punishable by between one and 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000." Furthermore, even if you grow your own and gift it to another adult, you can only gift up to an ounce. And, The Virginia Mercury warns, "gifts ... really mean[s] gifts."
According to The Virginia Mercury, "The bill attempts to explicitly prohibit the kind of transactions that have become common in Washington, D.C., where the drug is also legal but sales are limited, which led scores of businesses to begin selling legal products at high prices that — totally unrelated, they swear — come with what is described as a free gift of marijuana."
In yet another caveat, "adults" doesn't mean everyone over the age of 18. As with alcohol, marijuana is only legal for people 21 and older. If you're under 21, a first offense is a $25 fine and mandatory substance abuse treatment/education.
And it's illegal to consume or offer cannabis in public, as a gift or not. First offenses are subject to the $25 fine, second offenses to mandatory drug treatment, and third offenses to a charge of a Class 4 misdemeanor (or a Class 2 misdemeanor, if found "on the grounds of a public K-12 school while it’s open").
"This is not going to generate some ganja fest at Jiffy Lube pavilion out in the parking lot," Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, memorably said, "because that is smoking in public. Because just like you can’t drink in public, you can’t smoke in public under this."
In addition, "in an effort to address the difficulty of pursuing driving-under-the-influence charges, which unlike alcohol can’t be proven with breath or blood tests, the legislation also creates a presumption that a person has consumed marijuana if an “open container” is found in the passenger area of a vehicle."
However, an "open container" is defined in the amendment as "any vessel containing marijuana except the originally sealed manufacturer’s container"—but since retail cannabis isn't in the picture yet, there is no "originally sealed manufacturer's container." How are you supposed to transport a legal amount of marijuana, then?
The best guess? Pedini told The Virginia Mercury that you "should probably keep it out of your vehicle’s passenger area and in your trunk."
Long story short? If you want to exercise your new right to recreational cannabis, your best bet is probably to grow your own—but be cautious about how many ounces you wind up with, where you grow it, how you transport it, how much you gift, where, and to whom you gift it, and where you consume it. We'll keep you updated as regulations solidify.
What are your thoughts on the new legislation—crystal clear? We'd love to hear them in the comments.