Sorry everyone, but you still must make the trip into Washington, D.C. to get your legal marijuana fix (assuming you’re interested in following the law).
However, Virginia has taken another step toward full marijuana legalization. This week, the governor approved a bill that decriminalizes marijuana. That means instead of being punished as a misdemeanor crime, possession of marijuana is treated as a civil offense punished only by a $25 fine. Even if you’re caught with marijuana and later “convicted”, nothing will go on your criminal record and your driver’s license will not be suspended.
WHAT ABOUT HASH OIL, LIQUID THC, AND WAX?
Before this action “hash oil” used to be treated much differently than marijuana and possession of it was punished as a felony (for what reason, no one really knows). Now, hash oil is considered the same as marijuana. So no need to worry about criminal penalties for getting caught with a vape pen or gummies.
But this does not mean marijuana or hash oil or anything else is now legal. Police can still use the odor of marijuana to search your car (keep the drugs out of your car!). You can’t open up a dispensary or sell marijuana or hash oil to your friends (distribution is still very illegal). And you can’t just walk down the street smoking a bowl and expect no consequences. In other words, marijuana is still illegal. It just doesn’t have the severe punishments it used to have, and that’s significant.
DO YOU STILL NEED A LAWYER IF CAUGHT WITH MARIJUANA?
So if you’re caught with marijuana, should you hire a lawyer? Well, that depends on a lot of things. If you have or want a job that requires a security clearance, public trust, or professional license, you still do not want a marijuana charge against you. In most professional arenas, a marijuana citation still is not a badge of honor. However, if these things are not a concern for you, then perhaps you would be better off paying your fine and moving on. Everyone’s situation is unique. The new law limits state government disclosure of marijuana convictions. But there are always exceptions.
CAN POLICE STILL SEARCH BASED ON MARIJUANA?
Also, for those out there who may like to carry illegal or questionable things with them in their cars, this new law provides you no protection against “plain smell” which allows police to search your vehicle without a search warrant if the odor of marijuana is present. This is certainly an area open to challenge. But unless you want to risk being the test case for that, limit your marijuana use to your home, where police always need a search warrant to enter unless they’re invited inside. Finally, this may be obvious, but marijuana can still be the basis for a DWI charge. Alcohol is legal, but driving while intoxicated is not. Same rule applies to marijuana use.
If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have said Virginia would be the last state to even come close to legalizing marijuana. How things have changed.