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Virginia Decriminalizes Possession of Marijuana

On April 11, 2020, Virginia Governor Northam approved changes to existing criminal laws that, among other things, decriminalize possession of marijuana under one ounce. The new law is likely to take effect on July 1, 2020. Charges set for trial before that date are subject to the existing marijuana law, which makes simple possession a class 1 misdemeanor.

Here are three important things to know about the new Virginia marijuana laws:

  1. Possession of marijuana remains unlawful and may be prosecuted under Virginia Code §18.2-250. However, the maximum penalty is a civil fine up to $50 for possession, and $250 for consumption (e.g. smoking). A civil fine is not reported on a criminal background check.
  1. Smoking or otherwise consuming marijuana while operating a motor vehicle is still a crime under Virginia Code §18.2-250. Anyone who consumes marijuana while operating a car, boat, or other motor vehicle may be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Smoking marijuana in a vehicle with the keys in the ignition is likely enough for a guilty verdict.
  1. Distributing, selling, and sharing marijuana is still a crime under Virginia Code §18.2-248.1. Disturbing less than half an ounce is a Class 1 misdemeanor subject to a year in jail and a $2500 fine. Over half an ounce and less than five pounds is a Class 5 felony subject to 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

There are many important defenses that can be raised to these charges that may exonerate the person charged, or greatly reduce the penalty. The new Virginia law creates a presumption that possession of half an ounce of marijuana or less is for personal use, not distribution. This presumption means that the prosecutor may be required to present additional evidence to convict someone of distribution of marijuana of half an ounce or less. It is a powerful legal tool to reduce a distribution charge to a civil penalty when it is understood and used appropriately by a drug defense lawyer in court.

A defense of accommodation may also be raised to a charge of distribution, which may reduce a felony to a misdemeanor. Accommodation may be an appropriate defense when someone gives marijuana to another person who asks for it and does not make money. Accommodation can be a highly technical defense that depends on the specific facts of a case.

If you have been charged with a marijuana crime, call our drug defense lawyer to schedule a free consultation to discuss the best defenses in your case.

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