Over the past decade, many states have reduced or eliminated the penalties for marijuana possession. Virginia is now continuing the trend—becoming the 27th state to either legalize or decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. As reported by NBC 12, Governor Ralph Northam recently signed a bill that decriminalizes the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana in Virginia. The new law—which is scheduled to take effect on July 1st, 2020—dramatically reduces the penalties for simple possession. Below, our Richmond drug defense lawyers provide an overview of Virginia’s new marijuana decriminalization law.
Virginia Law: Marijuana Possession Decriminalization
Before the new law takes effect, simple marijuana possession is a misdemeanor criminal offense in Virginia. If you are found in possession of less than one ounce of marijuana you can be arrested, charged with a crime, and sentenced to a maximum of one month in jail and a $500 fine. Starting in July, that will no longer be the case: Possession of up to one ounce of marijuana will not be a crime in Virginia. Instead, it will be a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine—no arrest and no criminal record.
Additional Programs for Medical Marijuana in Virginia
Beyond the decriminalization of minor marijuana possession, Governor Northam also signed a bill providing protections to all people who participate in Virginia’s medical marijuana program. Licensed medical professionals can recommend medical marijuana to patients who meet certain requirements. You cannot be charged with a crime under Virginia law if you enter into and comply with the standards of the Commonwealth’s medical marijuana program.
You May Be Eligible to Get Marijuana Possession Records Sealed
For reference, the Virginia Sentencing Commission reports that nearly 15,000 were convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession in Virginia between the summer of 2018 and the summer of 2019. In the years prior, tens of thousands of other people were also arrested and charged with marijuana possession. Many of these people still carry a black mark on their criminal record.
To help promote equity, the marijuana decriminalization bill contains a provision that allows people to get their criminal records sealed if they have been convicted of a marijuana possession offense. If you want more information about how to get your records sealed, an experienced Richmond drug crimes attorney can help.
Marijuana Remains a Banned Substance Under Federal Law
It must be emphasized that marijuana is still a banned substance under federal law. Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug—meaning possession could be subject to strict criminal penalties. While federal law enforcement agencies and federal prosecutors have been largely respectful of state marijuana legalization/decriminalization efforts, it is important to understand that the laws remain in place.
A person who possesses less than an ounce of marijuana on a federal property in Virginia may be arrested on federal drug charges—even though they will no longer be criminally charged under Commonwealth law once the decriminalization bill takes effect. Beyond a federal charge, a person could potentially lose access to federal employment if they violate federal drug laws. If you or your loved one is facing federal drug charges in Virginia, contact an experienced defense attorney right away.
Call Our Richmond, VA Drug Crime Defense Attorneys for Immediate Help
At Bain Sheldon, our Virginia drug crimes defense lawyers provide aggressive, solutions-focused representation to defendants. If you or your loved one was arrested for marijuana possession, we can help. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer, please contact us today. With an office location in Richmond, we represent drivers throughout Central Virginia, including in Petersburg, Glen Allen, Mechanicsville, Henrico, Chesterfield, Hanover, Goochland, New Kent, Dinwiddie, Hopewell, Colonial Heights, Powhatan, Prince George and Ashland.