UPDATE: There have been several changes to Virginia's marijuana laws since the time this blog post was written. For the most up-to-date guide on marijuana law, please visit Marijuana Justice's Know Your Rights page.
Today is 4/20, an unofficial marijuana holiday that many people celebrate by lighting one up. Any day now, the governor will sign an historic bill making marijuana legal in Virginia. It marks the beginning of the end of the failed War on Drugs that disproportionately polices and incarcerates Black and Brown people.
Before you bust out the weed thinking that marijuana is fully legal, you should know your rights. We’ve got a rundown of what you can – and can’t – do under Virginia’s new laws.
What exactly is legal?
Starting July 1 of this year, it will be legal for adults 21 and older to carry less than one ounce of marijuana in public.
You cannot legally be penalized for carrying marijuana as you go about your daily business, as long as it’s under an ounce. How much is that? Check out Leafly's visual guide to weed quantities.
There will be consequences if you get caught holding more than one ounce in public. If you get caught with more than one ounce but less than one pound, you’ll have to pay up to a $25 civil penalty. Do not ever carry more than one pound. If you get caught, you could get one to 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
It is also illegal for anyone at any age to bring marijuana onto school grounds. The punishment is a Class 2 misdemeanor, which could result in up to six months of jailtime and up to a $1,000 fine, not to mention the burdensome consequences of a criminal record.
Okay, so you’re saying it’s legal for adults over 21 to smoke marijuana in public?
No. The law distinguishes between possession and use, even though they’re just one step away from each other. It is illegal to smoke or consume weed in public. It is also illegal to offer marijuana to someone else, whether they accept it or not. Giving marijuana to a minor in any situation has criminal consequences. The only thing that is legal is having less than one ounce with you, but it has to stay in your pocket or bag.
If caught using or giving marijuana to another person in public, you will face a range of penalties. For your first offense, you will pay up to a $25 fine. For your second offense, you’ll be required to pay another fine and enter a substance abuse treatment and education program. For your third offense, you will be charged a Class 4 misdemeanor, which will result in a $250 fine.
When can I legally buy recreational marijuana?
Legal sales of recreational marijuana will not begin until January 1, 2024. Starting then, only adults over the age of 21 will be able to legally purchase and use recreational marijuana.
What’s taking so long? The state still has to establish the new industry’s rules and regulations and set up the Cannabis Control Authority, which will enforce those rules and regulations. Lawmakers delayed deciding on important questions about how to administer business licenses and whether local governments will have the power to prohibit retail marijuana stores from setting up shop in their jurisdiction. These decisions will be made over the next couple years before the legal market begins on January 1, 2024.
I’m under 21. Is it legal for me to use marijuana?
No. If you’re under the age of 21, it’s illegal to have or use any amount of marijuana. If you get caught with it, you will be required to pay up to a $25 fine and enter a substance abuse treatment and education program.
If you’re under 18 and caught with marijuana, the consequences could be even worse. At the very least, you’ll be fined and required to enter a substance abuse program. Juvenile court will also treat you as “delinquent,” which, depending on the circumstances, could subject you to a range of additional punishments.
Under Virginia law, courts can legally put you on probation, suspend your driver’s license, fine you up to $500, make your parents participate in a substance abuse program, and even take custody away from your parent or guardian. Judges have a huge amount of discretion and can turn your simple marijuana case into something much worse.
What does the law say about marijuana in cars and vehicles?
It’s complicated. Basically, there are still several offenses in the new law that allow police to stop and arrest you. Bottom line: Never use marijuana in a car or vehicle. It’s illegal whether you’re the driver or a passenger.
Do your best to not even bring marijuana with you on the road. If you must, keep it in the trunk. Having an “open container” of marijuana like a plastic bag, jar, or Tupperware anywhere in the vehicle will give law enforcement reason to presume you consumed it while driving, which is punishable by a misdemeanor and up to $250 fine.
If you drive a commercial motor vehicle like a truck, bus, trailer or taxi, keeping marijuana anywhere inside is punishable by a $25 fine.
If you’re a school bus driver or driver for a ride-sharing company like Uber or Lyft, it is illegal to have or use marijuana under any circumstance. Violating this law will potentially get you jailtime and hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in fines.
Can I grow marijuana in my home?
Yes, with certain limits. Starting July 1 of this year, each household can legally cultivate up to four plants. Notice the limit is per household, not person. So if you live with roommates, the total number of plants you can grow collectively is still four. Exceeding this limit comes with escalating penalties, from a $250 fine for growing five to ten plants, to misdemeanor and felony charges for above that.
If you home grow, you must make sure your plants are not visible to the public or accessible to minors. The law does not specify what preventative measures you should take or how penalties will be enforced.
Home growers must also tag each of their plants with their name, driver’s license or state ID number, and notation that it is for personal use.
Keep in mind that there is currently no legal way to purchase seeds or cuttings for home growth before January 1, 2024.
I have a marijuana-related offense on my criminal record. Can I get it sealed?
The new legislation allows certain records to be sealed. However, due to technological barriers, record sealing likely won’t begin until July 1, 2025. The law allows records to be sealed as soon as the involved state agencies are ready, but it is hard to predict how quickly they can set up the system.
No later than October 1, 2025, courts will begin automatically sealing the records of people who were previously arrested, charged, or convicted for simple possession of marijuana or for selling, giving, or distributing less than one ounce of marijuana.
Additionally, people with more serious marijuana charges on their records (such as selling more than one ounce of marijuana or any marijuana-related drug paraphernalia) will be able to petition a judge to have their records sealed starting July 1, 2025.
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