It’s been more than 400 years since the Jamestown Colony imposed fines on farmers for NOT growing cannabis, but on April 21st of the Year of Our Lord 2021, Governor Ralph Northam made good on his promise to legalize cannabis in the great Commonwealth of Virginia. I’d wager this was part of the backroom dealings he made to stay in office after his blackface scandal two years ago, but ending the practice that forces 29,000 of its citizens per year through the gears of our tragic, farcical criminal justice system is progress worth celebrating.
They’re still hammering out all the details of their retail framework and we shouldn’t expect to see dispensaries for at least another two years – even if they’re fast-tracked. So what, exactly, is changing on July 1, 2021? I’m glad you asked, baby! Let’s get all up in them dirty deets.
Who can use marijuana legally in Virginia after July 1st? How much can they carry?
Anybody over the age of 21 can possess up to an ounce of marijuana or equivalent product in public except on school grounds or buses, in commercial vehicles – including taxis or rideshares. Another abhorrent infringement on the rights of Uber! The rules clearly state Gas, Ass, or Grass. Ipso facto, I’ll see you bitches at the Supreme Court.
Woohoo! Wait – are there any changes I should be concerned about?
Ah, clever girl. Yup, the fines are Increasing! For less than a pound, you may have to pay a fine of up to $25. Better than jail by a zillion degrees, right? But more than a pound is a felony offense with a 1-10 year sentence and a maximum fine of $250,000, which is a 100x increase over the current fine.
Where will cannabis consumption be legal in Virginia?
Only in private. Consumption in public carries a $25 fine for the first offense. Substance abuse classes and fine-only misdemeanors may apply after that. Misdemeanors also apply to consumption in a moving vehicle (fine only) and on school grounds or buses (jail time). That obviously applies only to passengers, it’s still very illegal to operate an automobile under the influence.
Will the odor of marijuana remain legal cause for search warrants?
Only in a commercial vehicle. Otherwise, a whiff of the stanky dank won’t be legal cause for loss of privacy in your home or while driving. And that noise you just heard, friends, was the collective sigh of relief of every stoner in VA all at once. Was it as good for you as it was for me?
What about retail stores and dispensaries?
They’re not scheduled for opening until 2024. Five people will be appointed to the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority’s (VCCA) Board of Directors for rulemaking, licensing, and enforcement. There’s a push from activists to speed up that timeline to 2023.
So where do we buy legal weed?!?
You don’t, it’s all free!
No really, how does this work?
It’s high time to start growing weed in Virginia! It’d be crazy not to consider growing your own, so we’ve put together a really helpful resource to get you started – Check it out! Otherwise, until stores open, the only other way to get it legally will be through “adult sharing”, which means no other transactions of money or goods would be allowed.
Now, we’ve heard this song somewhere before, I think. In my conversations with DC-based I71 brands, there is little ambition to expand their operations beyond the city’s border, cause anybody that lives here knows VA don’t play. But I also know that the weed industry, like the humble velociraptor, uh…finds a way.
Our best guess is that folks will be so enamored by the generosity of those sharing sweet Mary Jane that we won’t be able to resist donating our hard-earned cash to their totally unrelated charitable causes in the coming months. Much to the harumph of law enforcement and the politicians that gleefully tongue-polish their sphincters, natch! They’re already trying to warn people of spiked weed. Get real, dude, nobody gives away drugs for free. In this economy?
Sharing and offering will be illegal in public places, by the way. And for now, the proposed penalty for crossing state lines (with less than an ounce) is up to one year in jail!
What about homegrowing in Virginia?
State residents are allowed to cultivate up to four marijuana plants in their primary residence. The limit applies to each household, so no, you can’t have four plants for each of your cousins sleeping on a couch.
What if these couch-surfing cousins sneak in more plants?
Ten plants or less is only $250 for the first offense, but subsequent offenses may be misdemeanors. More than ten but less than fifty plants is a misdemeanor, and over fifty plants is a felony offense, but only a household with over 100 plants can invoke jail time.
Will Virginia allow homegrowers to produce hash or other concentrates?
No, they will not.
I heard they’re expunging criminal records?
Yes and no. It’s not happening yet, and felonies will require petitioning. The only thing happening on July 1st is that misdemeanor marijuana convictions will be “shielded” from appearing in the State Police database. As for automatic expungement, the Department of State Police has been given until July 1, 2025 to complete the task, which includes all misdemeanor marijuana records, including dismissed charges and civil penalties. Automatic expungement of felony marijuana convictions will be done on a case-by-case basis requiring formal petitioning, for which the process has not been determined.
Virginia plans to address this in two ways: with licensing that prioritizes social equity applicants and a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund.
To qualify for equity licensing, 66+ percent of ownership must belong to persons that have a prior misdemeanor marijuana conviction or a close relative with one, live in an “economically distressed” or “disproportionately policed” area, or graduated from a Virginia HBCU. Such applicants will receive preference between July 1, 2023 and Jan 1, 2024 and will have some of their licensing fees waived.
The Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund will receive 30% of marijuana tax revenues (after the cost to administer the VCCA) and direct them to a number of services, including a Cannabis Equity Loan Fund for social applicants, scholarship programs for foster care children and other “historically marginalized populations”, grants for job placement and youth services, and criminal defense funds.
Back way the hell up! Did you say it was illegal not to grow hemp in the colonial period?
Indeed! History books tend to suggest concerns over the overproduction of tobacco (which unfavorably dropped the price) or the increasing demand for hemp rope and linen used by sailors, but that just might be leaving something out. By order of King James, as enacted by the Virginia General Assembly of 1619:
For hempe also both English and Indian and for English flax and Aniseeds, we do require and enjoine all householders of this Colony that have any of those seeds to make tryal thereof the nexte season.
It’s well known what Indian Hemp meant in later years but I’m supposed to believe, what? They just hadn’t figured out what to do with it yet? Yeah right! The King sent Governor after Governor to distribute those seeds like a man possessed by the fear of an empty stash jar. Of course he told the farmers it was just for seeds and rope, can’t have the peons mucking about with third eyes open and, and, and, questioning everything!
Fast forward a couple hundred years and Virginia’s farmers could actually be jailed for not producing enough sticky icky! Oh, Father, how far we’ve fallen from grace…
So that’s it until 2024? Where can I get more info?
There’s still a lot going on! Most of the provisions are subject to “re-enactment” which means they have to be passed AGAIN to become law- and things can be changed! Besides that, all of the actual rules and regulations still have to be written by the Cannabis Control Commission and other committees formed through this law. There’s no time like the present to get involved with the process and make your voice heard, you sexy little Thundercat, you.
For more on clearing criminal records, social equity, taxes, and licensing, take a look at this summary by the Marijuana Policy Project. Legalization moves at a lightning pace so don’t forget to check for updates! And congrats to Virginia for restoring cultivation rights. Go forth, my goblins, and grow, grow, GROW!!! Obligatory maniacal laughter!!!