Marijuana Possession Officially Decriminalized in Virginia
As of July 1, 2020, possession of marijuana is officially decriminalized and technically no longer a drug crime under Virginia law, according to an article by NBC12. The new laws should have an immediate impact, as studies indicate 29,000 arrests were made in Virginia for possession of marijuana in 2018.
The new laws concerning marijuana possession have roots that trace back to both houses of the Virginia General Assembly. The governor officially signed House Bill 972 into law, though Senate Bill 2 contained substantively similar language and impact. The General Assembly agreed that personal possession of marijuana should be a civil offense, not a criminal offense.
Is Possession of Marijuana Now Legal in Virginia?
Outside of approved medical uses, possession of marijuana remains largely unlawful in Virginia. But the newly amended statute, Code of Virginia Section 18.2-250.1, removes the criminal penalties for possession of small quantities of marijuana.
Before July 1st, marijuana possession of one ounce or less was a criminal offense. The first conviction was punishable by fines up to $500 and a maximum jail sentence of 30 days. A second or subsequent conviction was a Class 1 misdemeanor with a potential punishment of fines up to $500 and a maximum jail sentence of one year.
Now, unlawful possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is a civil offense, which is a lesser charge than a misdemeanor or felony. If convicted for this civil offense, the maximum penalty is a fine up to $25.
As noted previously, Virginia does allow marijuana possession and use for medical purposes, if prescribed by their doctor. This statute is found in Code of Virginia Section 18.2-251.1.
Does Distribution of Marijuana Remain a Criminal Offense?
The marijuana decriminalization effort also amended the statute concerning marijuana distribution crimes. Under Code of Virginia Section 18.2-248.1, the new threshold for possession with intent to distribute is one ounce.
Before July 1st, the limit was one-half ounce. Any person in possession of more than that amount would have likely faced criminal charges for distribution of marijuana.
Moving forward, possession with intent to distribute only applies to quantities of marijuana above one ounce. Marijuana possession of one ounce or less is now considered personal possession and punishable as a civil offense, as explained in the previous section.
That being said, it remains a criminal offense to possess larger amounts of marijuana. For example, possession of:
- One Ounce to Five Pounds of Marijuana — Is chargeable as a Class 5 felony and punishable by fines up to $100,000 and a maximum prison sentence of 10 years; or
- More than Five Pounds of Marijuana — Is chargeable as a felony and punishable by fines up to $100,000 and a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
Do You Need Legal Help?
If you have legal questions about drug crimes under Virginia law, it can be constructive to speak with a knowledgeable Leesburg drug crimes lawyer. The lawyers at Simms Showers LLP have widespread experience with various areas of criminal defense, including numerous types of drug crimes. If you need legal help with criminal defense, contact us today for a free initial consultation.