How Have the Virginia Cannabis Laws Changed?
Across the country views on cannabis have been changing. Today fewer than 1 in 10 Americans feel that marijuana should not be legal under any circumstance and the majority also believe that recreational use should also be permitted.
That is a big change from a few decades ago, when, in the “just say no” era the support for marijuana was at an all time low.
Now it seems the laws are beginning to catch up.
Across the country, 37 states have legalized medical cannabis. We’re at a point now where 18 states also have legal weed dispensaries. Virginia is not quite there yet but as you’ve likely heard, on July 1, we had some major changes to the laws and now Virginia does allow recreational use under many circumstances.
What Sparked the Change
So why are laws changing in Virginia and beyond?
First of all, the aforementioned changing views cannot be ignored. Politicians must face their constituents and when they get too out of step with these constituents they may also be out of a job.
But beyond that there’s the very real fact that a lot of people have been hurt by drug enforcement laws. With 450,000 people imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses (that’s about 20% of the incarcerated), and over half of all American adults (including 3 of our last 5 presidents) saying they have partaken of cannabis at some point, it starts to look like a lopsided and unfair equation indeed.
With the sheer number of people trying cannabis, it takes a lot of resources (read money) to prevent cannabis consumption and most law enforcement agencies don’t see it as a priority. So, the laws were not very practical on an enforcement basis or popular on a legislative basis.
Secondly, the rule to always follow when anything major changes is the same across all categories: Follow the money. If all these people are going to be buying a recreational drug regardless, doesn’t it make sense to treat it the same way as other state controlled recreational drugs and make some money off of it? That seems to be the logic.
So What’s Changing?
As mentioned, Virginians are not yet able to legally buy cannabis products from a dispensary.
Under the original law passed, buying, selling and possession would have all become legal in January 2024. But many advocates for social justice felt this left a lot to be desired. If lawmakers were acknowledging cannabis use shouldn’t be a criminal offense, shouldn’t we stop arresting people for using it?
So the compromise made was that use and cultivation of cannabis would no longer be illegal in Virginia but sales would be.
As of July 1, people 21 and older may now partake of cannabis products. Like alcohol, public consumption is not allowed under most circumstances and users must not drive while under the influence.
Additionally, each household may grow up to 4 plants. (That’s per household, not per person.) Technically, each plant is supposed to be labeled with the individual grower’s name, driver’s license or ID number and a card that says it is for personal use. Plants are also not supposed to be able to be within site of the public.
Where it gets confusing is how growers are supposed to get the plants.
Since sales of cannabis plants or seeds are still illegal, growers will have to be “gifted” a plant. However, interstate travel with plants or seeds is still illegal under federal law. So how do you get the plants or seeds?
It must already be in Virginia. And since it wasn’t legal to grow marijuana in Virginia until July 2021, basically the way to legally grow your own cannabis is by getting it for free from someone who was previously growing it illegally!
This somewhat hazy state of legal affairs helped lead to another law being passed July 1 2021: The Clean Slate Act. The Clean Slate Act has begun a process for automatically sealing records for most cannabis-based offenses if the person is not convicted of any other crimes during the seven year period following arrest.
State vs Federal Law
It’s worth noting that under federal law cannabis possession is still a criminal offence. At the moment, it’s not a priority on the list of federal enforcement. But technically that could change at any minute. Many federal lawmakers are also trying to get laws changed to reflect America’s changing values.
Virginia seems to be betting on the federal tide turning as the first Virginia dispensaries are expected to open in January of 2024 with the first applications for selling cannabis expected to be filed in 2023.
Until then, be aware of laws in your own state and locality and be careful to stay within the confines of those laws. Be safe out there. And since growing is currently your way to partake, come out to Blue Ridge Hydroponics and let’s get growing!