With the laws on marijuana changing in the Commonwealth of Virginia, people get confused over the terms “decriminalization” and “legalization” of marijuana. Decriminalization is the process of removing criminal sanctions against an act, article, or behavior. Decriminalization of cannabis means it would remain illegal, but the legal system would not prosecute a person for possession under a specified amount. Instead, the penalties would range from no penalties at all, civil fines, drug education, or drug treatment.

Legalization of cannabis is the process of removing all legal prohibitions against it. Each State in the United States would then have individualized legislation around use, sale and possession. Cannabis would then be available to the adult (21 and older) general population for purchase and use at will, similar to tobacco and alcohol. Legalization allows each state to regulate and tax marijuana use and sales according to its specific legislation. Federally, marijuana is still categorized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 1 drug, which means 1) it has no currently accepted medical use, and 2) it has a high potential for abuse.

In Virginia, some use of marijuana has been decriminalized and legalized. The Eastern Shore Community Services Board was directed by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services recently to conduct a Marijuana Use Community Readiness Assessment. The purpose of the report was to capture community attitudes, perceptions and knowledge of local marijuana use, the partial decriminalization and the 2024 legalization of recreational marijuana in Virginia. This assessment report was prepared by the Planning Council and can be found at https://escsb.org/resources/.

What is legal in the Commonwealth of VA? According to www.cannabis.virginia.gov, medical marijuana was legalized in 2017 and the current comprehensive laws on its use were put in place in 2020. Medical marijuana is currently only available at a state-registered pharmaceutical processor. Patients must have a doctor’s referral to get a medical marijuana card and then apply to the state Board of Pharmacy to receive the card.

As for recreational marijuana use in Virginia, its laws are evolving. On April 7, 2021, the Virginia General Assembly legalized the possession and/or consumption of up to one ounce of cannabis sativa for recreational use by adults 21 years and older on private property, and the home cultivation of cannabis plants (up to four plants per household) for adults 21 years and older. Retail sales are scheduled to begin on January 1, 2024, giving the state a three-year timeframe to create comprehensive regulations.

As such, it is currently illegal for any person or business to sell or distribute marijuana, marijuana seeds, clones, flower, or any other part of the marijuana plant in Virginia before 2024.

On June 1, 2022, the Virginia General Assembly approved the 2022-2024 Budget. In it were laws clarifying marijuana possession. The penalty makes it a misdemeanor offense to possess more than four ounces of marijuana, adding a lower-level offense before the felony charge that can come with possession of a pound or more. The language specifies the possession limits don’t apply to marijuana stored at home, clearing up some of the confusion created by the state legalizing home marijuana grows of up to four plants, enough to potentially put someone over the possession limits depending on how much the plants produce and how the law is interpreted.

More on the new legislation can be found online at https://budget.lis.virginia.gov/

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