In spring of 2021, Virginia joined the list of states in the U.S. moving towards the legalization of marijuana. The legislation’s final passage was on April 7, 2021, by the Virginia General Assembly, following proposed amendments by Governor Ralph Northam. This made Virginia the first southern state to push in the direction of marijuana legalization.
Virginia’s legalization law came into effect officially on July 1, 2021, making Virginia the 17th state in the US to legalize cannabis usage. Subsequently, adults are now permitted to legally possess up to an ounce of cannabis at a time. Adults can also grow up to 4 plants of cannabis in their places of residence for personal use. [Source]
During 2020 a number of studies took place in Virginia to look at the Commonwealth’s legalization and culminated with an announcement by Governor Northam in the end of 2020 of his support to legalize adult use marijuana.
Virginia’s journey to normalize cannabis begin in 2015 when a law was passed to create an affirmative defense to possession of cannabis oil for patients with intractable epilepsy. In 2017 the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation to create the regulatory scheme for the medical cannabis program. Since then, lawmakers in Virginia have continually made improvements to the medical cannabis program. [Source]
On July 1, 2020 possession of marijuana was decriminalized and the process was started to expunge records for those with simple possession charges. This ultimately led to full legalization on July 1, 2021. Virginia also officially became the 34th state in the US with a comprehensive medical cannabis program. However, commercial sale of marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia is not set to come into effect until January 1, 2024. [Source]
Before we go deeper into marijuana laws, it will help to define medical marijuana and adult use.
Medical marijuana typically refers to cannabis products with high CBD and low THC content. Examples include:
Pain (eg., from chemotherapy)
However, Virginia’s law allows for the use of medical marijuana for any condition deemed appropriate by a registered practitioner. In Virginia those 18 and older may be dispensed medical marijuana or minor patients under the supervision of a parent or legal guardian.
Adult Use Marijuana
Adult use marijuana is exactly what it sounds like—the use of cannabis for the purposes of recreation or personal enjoyment by adults.
Virginia law allows adult use marijuana to be used in the privacy of one’s home or in non-public social gatherings where permitted. Public consumption of marijuana is still prohibited under Virginia law.
Distinguishing between these two types of marijuana use will make it is easier to understand how marijuana laws are made.
Some state laws only permit the use of medical marijuana among certified patients and can only be sourced from accredited dispensary facilities.
On the other hand, “full legalization” permits the use of both recreational and medical marijuana. Virginia is part of a list of states in the US that practices full legalization although to date one cannot legally purchase adult use marijuana in Virginia.
That said, there are still plenty of specifics around legality. To give you a better understanding of the marijuana laws in the Commonwealth of Virginia, let’s walk through some key points.
What is Legal?
People of age 21 and above are now allowed to carry up to an ounce of marijuana in public.
Virginians of 21 years and above can now cultivate up to four plants of cannabis at a time at their primary residences.
About one ounce of marijuana can be shared among consenting adults (in private residences only).
Medical marijuana can be sourced only from approved dispensaries for individuals under the medical cannabis program.
What is still Illegal?
Public consumption of marijuana is still illegal in Virginia.
Possession and use of marijuana remain illegal for individuals under the age of 21.
Possession of marijuana is illegal on school premises or school buses.
The use of marijuana is illegal among motorists (both driver and passengers).
Sharing or solicitation of marijuana in public remains illegal.
Purchasing or selling cannabis is illegal outside of the medical cannabis program.
Marijuana should not be used in any form of commercial gifting (public giveaways, gifts for patronage, paid entry consumption events, etc.).
Transportation Guidelines Regarding Marijuana
Driving under the influence of marijuana (impaired) is illegal.
No driver nor passenger should consume or have an open container or jar of marijuana while the vehicle is in motion.
While transporting cannabis, ensure that it is properly sealed off in a container—preferably in the trunk or other locations out of the driver’s reach.
Adult-sharing Guidelines on Marijuana
Adults from age 21 and above are allowed to share up to an ounce of cannabis in private residences.
Exchange or gifting of cannabis is not permitted.
Growing Guidelines of Cannabis
All cannabis plants must be tagged with the name of the grower and state ID number/driver’s license.
Cannabis plants should not be immediately visible from a public area except with the use of optical aids like binoculars.
Growing marijuana is allowed both indoors and outdoors, except in some rental homes.
Marijuana cultivation is only allowed in the primary grower’s residence.
Virginia Marijuana Laws FAQ
Where can I legally buy cannabis in Virginia?
You can legally buy medical cannabis only at licensed dispensaries. But you must first be a registered and certified patient under the medical cannabis program. The certification lets you access quantities of marijuana from any dispensary or facility licensed by the Board of Pharmacy.
Can I use cannabis in public?
Public consumption of cannabis is still illegal in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Cannabis can only be used in the privacy of your home.
Can I have medical marijuana in my car?
There are laws regarding how one can transport marijuana. When moving any legally permitted quantity of marijuana in a vehicle, ensure it is sealed shut in a container. This container must be out of reach from the driver.
Can I be fired for testing positive?
The only protections under Virginia law are for those with a valid certification and registration as a medical cannabis patient. At this time the Commonwealth has no set employment protections for those using adult use marijuana. Please check with your company as some companies have relaxed marijuana laws while others may be strict about marijuana usage (especially during work hours!). Consequently, testing positive for marijuana may carry a penalty that may or may not include termination of employment.
Can I order cannabis online?
Yes, you may order medical cannabis online. No adult use cannabis is available for sale online in Virginia.
How does marijuana legalization in Virginia impact those who were previously incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses?
Since cannabis became officially legal in Virginia, many advocacy groups have been concerned about how the law affects people incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses. The new law, which took effect on July 1, 2021, makes it legal to possess, use, and home-grow a very limited quantity of marijuana.
Yet people serving jail time for marijuana-related offenses will remain behind bars even after the Commonwealth of Virginia attains full legalization.
However, the new law does significantly lessen the penalties for marijuana-related felonies. Individuals found with more than an ounce of cannabis but below a pound will be fined $25.
Additionally, people found cultivating large amounts of cannabis will also be charged with penalties ranging from a fine of $25 up to minor misdemeanor charges.
I have a medical condition. How can I register as a patient?
Below are steps to get registered under the medical cannabis program:
Find a registered practitioner who is legally allowed to recommend/certify you for medical cannabis. Most physicians are not registered with the program and cannot certify you. Please check here before scheduling an appointment.