Possessing marijuana in amounts of up to one ounce will be legal July 1, but sales will still be outlawed in Virginia until 2024. That means there will be no clear legal way to acquire marijuana or marijuana plants, despite possession itself being legal.
“Outside of the medical cannabis program, there remains no legal access to marijuana in Virginia,” Virginia NORML Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini told The Virginia Star.
The marijuana legalization bills as passed in 2021 were originally written to delay legalization until 2024, giving Virginia agencies time to develop complex regulatory systems around manufacture and sales. The regulations are also meant to address unequal burdens caused by historical marijuana law enforcement by ensuring that those with marijuana convictions have access to business licenses. That regulatory structure earned opposition from Republicans who wanted a more free-market approach to legalization.
But after the General Assembly passed those bills, Governor Ralph Northam amended the legislation to legalize possession of one ounce of marijuana, two adult marijuana plants, and two young marijuana plants on July 1. Still, the rest of the legislation doesn’t go into effect until 2024, leaving it illegal to buy marijuana, transport it across state lines, trade it for other goods, or give it away.
Pedini said, “Unfortunately, Virginia failed to follow the same common-sense pathway as the other states which have expanded from medical to adult-use by expediting access through already operational dispensaries. Until the Commonwealth provides a legislative solution, any delay of retail sales for adult-use cannabis will only serve to protect and embolden the illicit market. In the interest of consumer and public safety, the legislature ought to immediately address this in the next legislative session.”
Pedini did say that the law allows “adult sharing” of marijuana, similar to adults sharing a bottle of wine.
“For the purposes of this section, ‘adult sharing’ means transferring marijuana between persons who are 21 years of age or older without remuneration. ‘Adult sharing’ does not include instances in which (i) marijuana is given away contemporaneously with another reciprocal transaction between the same parties; (ii) a gift of marijuana is offered or advertised in conjunction with an offer for the sale of goods or services; or (iii) a gift of marijuana is contingent upon a separate reciprocal transaction for goods or services,” the law states.
When asked how Virginians who want to take advantage of the new law can legally acquire marijuana, bill sponsor Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) said Virginians could grow their own plants. But he didn’t say how Virginians could acquire the plants or the seeds, and suggested asking Northam’s office since they wrote the amendment. Northam’s media contact did not answer a request for comment by press time.
Staff for legalization co-sponsor Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) confirmed that there is no legal way to buy or sell marijuana, since the bill was originally designed to legalize marijuana in 2024, when the regulatory structure goes into effect. The July 1 legalization also doesn’t include any regulatory structure to legally acquire the seeds or plants. That suggests that the only way to legally enjoy marijuana after July 1 requires breaking the law first — either by already possessing it before July 1, or by illegally acquiring it afterwards.
Pedini has two pieces of advice for Virginians who want to use marijuana.
“First, elections have consequences. If legalization is important to you, make sure you’re voting for candidates that share your opinion,” Pedini said. “Second, make good choices. The best law enforcement interaction for cannabis is one that doesn’t happen.”
– – –