With the changing marijuana laws in the Commonwealth of Virginia, people are getting confused with the terms “decriminalization” and “legalization” of marijuana. Decriminalization is the process of removing criminal sanctions against an act, item, or behavior. Decriminalizing cannabis means it would remain illegal, but the court system would not prosecute a person for possession below a specified amount. Instead, penalties would range from no penalties at all to civil fines, drug education, or drug treatment.
Cannabis legalization is the process of removing all legal prohibitions against it. Each state in the United States would then have individualized legislation regarding use, sale, and possession. Cannabis would then be available to the general adult population (21+) for purchase and consumption at will, like tobacco and alcohol. Legalization allows each state to regulate and tax the use and sales of marijuana according to their specific laws. At the federal level, marijuana is still classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 1 drug, which means 1) it currently has no accepted medical use and 2) it has a high potential for abuse.
In Virginia, some marijuana use has been decriminalized and legalized. The East Coast Community Services Board was recently led by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to conduct a community readiness assessment for marijuana use. The purpose of the report was to capture community attitudes, perceptions, and knowledge about local marijuana use, partial decriminalization, and legalization of recreational marijuana in 2024 in Virginia. This assessment report was prepared by the Planning Board and can be accessed at https://escsb.org/resources/.
What is legal in the Commonwealth of VA? According to www.cannabis.virginia.gov, medical marijuana was legalized in 2017 and the current comprehensive laws on its use were put in place in 2020. Medical marijuana is currently only available from a pharmaceutical processor registered with the State. Patients must have a doctor’s referral to obtain a medical marijuana card and then apply to the State Board of Pharmacy to receive the card.
As for the recreational use of marijuana in Virginia, its laws are changing. On April 7, 2021, the Virginia General Assembly legalized possession and/or consumption of up to one ounce of cannabis sativa for recreational purposes by adults 21 and older on private property, and cultivation at home cannabis plants (up to four plants per household) for adults 21 years and older. Retail sales are scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2024, giving the state three years to create comprehensive regulations.
As such, it is currently illegal for any person or business to sell or distribute marijuana, marijuana seeds, clones, flowers, or any other part of the marijuana plant in Virginia before 2024.
On June 1, 2022, the Virginia General Assembly approved the 2022-2024 budget. There were laws clarifying the possession of marijuana. The sentence makes it a misdemeanor for possession of more than four ounces of marijuana, adding a lower level offense before the felony charge that can come with possession of a pound or more. The language clarifies that possession limits do not apply to home-stored marijuana, clearing up some of the confusion created by the state legalizing home-grown marijuana for up to four plants, enough to potentially put someone over possession limits depending on how much the plants produce and how the law is interpreted.
More information about the new legislation can be found online at https://budget.lis.virginia.gov/