From ancient herbal medicine to an underground gateway drug, to a promising medicinal wonder, the image of marijuana has undergone dramatic shifts throughout history. To date, with the steady growth of public support for marijuana legalization, it’s not surprising that states and countries all over the world are taking huge leaps to change their relationship with this modern-day magic elixir.
Virginia, in particular, is not exempted from those who are affected by these changes. In fact, in March this year, the state has become the latest to join the ranks of other states who have decriminalized marijuana. Given this recent shift, it’s only normal that many might find themselves confused about the intricacies of Virginia’s existing cannabis laws.
If you’re one of these citizens, now’s the ideal time to start the learning process and get updated on the ins and outs of your state’s cannabis policies. To make things a little easier for you, we have prepared a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about this subject. Read on.
Marijuana in Virginia: Legal or Not?
To start, it’s important to lay down whether marijuana is legal in Virginia. The short answer, is NO, but it is now decriminalized. Under the state’s existing laws, possession, sale, trafficking, and cultivation of the drug remain to be illegal but now you will only get a fine
However, on the good side, Virginia demonstrates a “continually improving” relationship with cannabis. In fact, to date, the state practices a limited medical cannabis program.
Due to these favorable conditions, many believe that the full legalization of the drug in Virginia might roll out sooner than expected.
Recreational Marijuana in Virginia – Legalization vs Decriminalization
In discussing the status of recreational marijuana in Virginia, it’s important to distinguish first what do we mean by legalization and what is decriminalization.
Specifically, when we speak of legalization, this means that all legal prohibitions against a particular activity or behavior have been abolished. In the case of marijuana, when a state declares it to be legal, this means that anyone who is to be caught possessing or using it will not face any fine or penalty. Normally, under such circumstances, regulations are established to manage where and how cannabis can be produced, sold, and consumed.
However, when we speak of decriminalization, this refers to the act of removing criminal sanctions against an act or behavior. In other words, when a state decriminalizes cannabis, this means that the drug remains to be illegal, however, the legal system could not prosecute a person for possession of the substance under a specified amount. Under decriminalization, jail time is removed but lower-level penalties, such as civil fines, drug education, or drug treatment, will be enacted.
To date, under Virginia’s existing laws, marijuana has not been declared legal. However, possession of the drug has been decriminalized after Gov. Ralph Northam signed a decriminalization bill on April 22, 2020.
With this shift, citizens of the state who are to be caught in possession of up to one ounce of marijuana in Virginia will no longer face jail time and will only be required to pay a civil penalty with a $25 fine once the law took effect on July.
Decriminalization of Cannabis in Virginia: Knowing the Ins and Outs
Before the recent announcement of Gov. Ralph Northam that he had signed a decriminalization bill (HB 972) into law, the commonwealth of Virginia already treats marijuana possession differently than it does for other controlled substances.
Normally, under state law, possession of a controlled substance can lead to suspension of one’s license, a fine, and possible jail time. However, this set of penalties does not apply upon a person’s first conviction for marijuana possession.
However, despite that special status, possession of cannabis is still considered a misdemeanor charge under the Virginian Code.
This means that when someone is caught possessing the drug, the person may serve jail time of up to 30 days and/or pay a $500 fine for his first offense. In addition to that, the offender may even face possible license suspension in case he has failed or refused to complete the hours of community service assigned to him by a judge.
As part of the policies, for every conviction done after the first (i.e. second or subsequent offense), the individual will face up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
To date, with the passage of HB 972 into law, Virginia now joins 27 other states who had decriminalized cannabis. Now, under the said measure, possession of marijuana will now be a civil offense rather than a criminal one. As a result, individuals who are to be caught in possession of up to one ounce of marijuana will not face jail time or criminal record. Instead, a $25 fine will be required in place.
The law is set to take effect on July 1, 2020. However, it doesn’t apply to possession of over one ounce of marijuana, which will be interpreted with an “intent to distribute.”
Medical Marijuana in Virginia – Legal or Not?
As mentioned earlier, marijuana is not legal in Virginia for both recreational and medical purposes. However, despite this, the state follows certain medical exemptions.
What does this mean?
To have a better grasp on the state’s current relationship with marijuana as a medicinal substance, it’s important to review its earlier policies first.
Specifically, Virginia’s connection with marijuana as a medical drug begun in 2015, when the state passed a highly conservative low-THC medical cannabis law. Under such measure, individuals who have intractable epilepsy, or guardians of those with intractable epilepsy, can seek an affirmative defense against prosecution, so long as they are only carrying cannabis extract that contains no more than 5 percent THC.
This means that any person can still be arrested for marijuana possession despite having medical authorization. However, he or she can now avail of legal defense from an experienced attorney against prosecution.
In practice, this means that in the event where a registered medical marijuana patient has been arrested over possession of cannabidiol or THC-A oil, he or she may simply claim for affirmative defense and file a written certification with the court at least 10 days prior to the trial.
To be eligible for an “affirmative defense,” an individual must meet the required guidelines imposed by the state. This includes having an unexpired valid written certification issued from a board-registered physician and a current active patient and/or caregiver registration issued by the Board of Pharmacy.
From that rough start, Virginia’s ties with medical cannabis continued to expand and improved. In 2018, Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill expanding the program to include other conditions aside from intractable epilepsy, as long as recommended by a practitioner.
This results in Virginia not having a list of qualifying conditions, as physicians may write a certification for any patient suffering from any health problem whom they think will benefit from taking medical marijuana products.
About a year after, the governor has yet again signed a bill called SB 1557, which permits doctors, physician assistants, and licensed nurse practitioners to issue THC-A and other cannabinoid product recommendations to qualifying patients. Along with this, eligible citizens can also enjoy access to THC-A products, such as oils, capsules, lozenges, patches, and lollipops that contain up to 10 mg THC.
How to Register for Virginia’s Medical Cannabis Program?
To register for Virginia’s Medical Cannabis Program, patients or guardians must secure (1) a written certification issued by a registered practitioner and (2) a registration issued by the Board of Pharmacy first.
To obtain the first requirement, patients can find a list of doctors who are registered to write certifications via the DPH’s License Lookup page. From there, they can click on the “Occupation” option and select “Registered Physician For CBD/THC-A Oil.” They will then be provided with a list of doctors whom they can consult to obtain a written certification for use of cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil.
Meanwhile, to get the second requirement, patients or legal guardians can submit their online application for obtaining board registration via the DHP Initial Applications site.
However, as part of the process, legal guardians will be required to first submit the patient’s registration application and their parent/guardian application.
Once done, they can start registering with the Board of Pharmacy via its online application system.
Among the documents that will be required include a completed Certification for the use of cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil, proof of patient’s residency, proof of patient’s identity, proof of patient’s age, proof of parent/guardian residency, proof of parent/guardian identity, and proof of parent/guardian age.
Normally, the cost of the registration scores a total of $50 for each application submitted.
A processing period of 7-10 days can also be expected after submitting one’s application. Once approved, the registration card will be mailed to the address of the record listed on the application.
To contact the Virginia Broad of Pharmacy, interested individuals can email them at [email protected] or visit their office located at Perimeter Center, 9960 Mayland Drive, Suite 300, Henrico, VA 23233-1463.
How to Get Medical Cannabis Product?
Only recently, the Virginia Board of Pharmacy has approved five companies to open CBD and THC-A oil dispensaries, with one per Health Service Area (HSA). Under the said program, the five licensed dispensaries, called “pharmaceutical processors,” will be tasked to grow, extract, dispense, and deliver medical cannabis products to approved patients.
To date, approved patients are only permitted to purchase medical cannabis products from these five pharmaceutical processors, which include PharmaCann Virginia, Dalitso, Dharma Pharmaceuticals, Green Leaf Medical of Virginia, and Columbia Care.
PharmaCann operates in Staunton, while Dalitso is in Manassas.
Dharma Pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, has its dispensary in Bristol, and Green Leaf Medical works in Swansboro neighborhood in the city of Richmond.
Columbia Care, which serves as an international cannabis-focused health-care company, has its operations in Portsmouth.
The Bottom Line
Have you learned something with the help of our guide? We hope you did.
While it’s true that learning about cannabis laws could be an overwhelming experience, especially with the marijuana’s shaky legal status in the federal level, keeping yourself updated on the recent changes of the local policies surrounding marijuana remains to be a necessity in order to help you distinguish what’s safe from what is not.
To date, although the legalization of marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia remains to be enshrouded in clouds of uncertainties, recent advancements in the state’s treatment of the drug prove that full legalization of the drug is not impossible.
Want to learn more? Feel free to contact any medical or legal professional in Virginia today!