Virginia is currently one of twenty states that bans both recreational and medicinal marijuana use. However, this doesn’t mean that Virginia law treats marijuana like any other drug. In fact, neither of Virginia’s standard drug possession or drug distribution statutes specifically apply to marijuana. Instead, Virginia uses a separate, special set of laws to deal with these cases.
In this article, we’ll go over the distinct ways that Virginia law treats marijuana possession and distribution differently than other drugs. We’ll do this by comparing these laws to Virginia’s standard set of anti-drug legislation.
Keep in mind, however, that marijuana possession and distribution are still serious offenses. If you are charged with either crime, its important to contact a lawyer immediately to avoid serious fines and possibly even jail time.
Possession of Other Controlled Substances
Normally, the penalties for the possession of a controlled substance include the suspension of your license, a fine, and possibly jail time. These penalties generally remain the same regardless of whether or not it’s your first offense.
The amount possessed doesn’t usually matter when it comes to a possession charge. The court will decide to charge you with a misdemeanor or felony based on the nature of the substance, not the quantity.
However, large quantities of certain drugs are usually an indicator of distribution, which carries separate charges from possession.
Virginia state law makes marijuana the sole exception to the rules described above. In particular:
- The Virginia DMV won’t necessarily suspend your license upon your first conviction for marijuana possession. Instead, a judge will usually assign you several hours of community service. Refusing or failing to perform this service will result in a license suspension.
- The penalties for marijuana possession become more severe with each subsequent conviction.
- As with other drugs, the penalties remain the same regardless of the amount of marijuana in your possession. However, possessing large amounts of a drug is strong evidence for distribution charges.
So what are the penalties for marijuana possession in Virginia?
- For your first marijuana possession charge, the maximum penalty is a $500 fine and a 30-day jail sentence. In addition, the judge overseeing your case may assign you community service, as described above.
- Any subsequent marijuana possession charges automatically become a class 1 misdemeanor. These charges are punishable by a fine of up to $2,500, as well as possible jail time.
The state of Virginia classifies hashish oil and other forms of liquid marijuana as schedule 1 controlled substances. This means that the possession of any amount of these substances carries the following penalties:
- Immediate license suspension, as described above.
- A fine of up to $2,500.
- A prison term of between 1 and 10 years.
Cannabidiol or THC-A Oil
In general, Virginia does not treat marijuana as a substance with legitimate medical uses. However, the state has recently made an exception for certain marijuana derivatives which lack psychoactive properties.
For that reason, it is legal to possess Cannabidiol or THC-A oil in Virginia provided you have a legal prescription for a diagnosed condition or disease.
If you are arrested for the possession of legal Cannabidiol or THC-A oil, get in touch with a lawyer. In most cases, you should be able to file a certification with the court and get your charges dropped without the case going to trial.
Selling, Growing, or Distributing Marijuana
As with other drugs, Virginia law makes it a felony to grow, sell, or possess substantial amounts of marijuana with the intent to distribute it. However, the penalties for doing so differ from those for distributing other substances.
Unlike other forms of drugs, the penalties for distributing marijuana can vary widely based on the total amount of drugs in your possession. However, the possession of large amounts of a controlled substance does not constitute proof of distribution by itself.
Instead, the state must use circumstantial evidence (packaging, scales, money/checks, etc.) to demonstrate your intent to distribute.
Possessing Marijuana with the Intent to Distribute
The penalties for possession of marijuana with an intent to distribute will depend on the amount the police found at the scene. Here are the possible penalties for your first two distribution convictions:
- Possession of half an ounce of marijuana, or less, is a class 1 misdemeanor. It is punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and up to year in jail.
- Possession of more than half an ounce, but less than 5 pounds, of marijuana is a class 5 felony. It is punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and up to one year in prison.
- Possession of more than 5 pounds of marijuana is a felony. It is punishable by a prison term of 5 to 30 years.
- In addition, growing marijuana and manufacturing its derivatives are also felonies. These crimes are punishable by an additional fine of up to $10,000 and a prison term of 5 to 30 years.
Virginia has a “three strikes” rule when it comes to marijuana distribution. Upon a person’s third felony conviction for marijuana production or distribution, the maximum penalty becomes life in prison.
Finally, all of the above penalties come with a mandatory license suspension.
Possessing Paraphernalia with Intent to Distribute
Selling or distributing drug paraphernalia is also a crime in Virginia. Regardless of the amount of paraphernalia, distribution is a class 1 misdemeanor. Its maximum penalties include a jail sentence of 1 year, as well as a $2,500 fine.
The distribution of drug paraphernalia to a minor is a felony. Its penalties include a prison sentence of up to 1 year, and a fine of up to $2,500.
First Offender Program
While the penalties described above are certainly a possibility in all criminal cases, the court will rarely throw the book at you for a first offense. Further, for certain qualifying individuals Virginia also offers a special first offender program.
This program basically trades a prison sentence for rehabilitation, and generally includes probation, education programs, drug tests, and sometimes even therapy. However, this program only applies to people facing their first offense, and requires that you plead guilty in court.
The first offender program applies to all types of drug offenses, including narcotics, marijuana, stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogenic drugs.
The First Offender Program in Practice
In essence, if the court is likely to find you guilty of your first drug offense, you can come to an agreement to defer the judgement until a later date.
Specifically, the court:
These terms and conditions specifically require that you complete several tasks:
- Successfully complete a treatment or education program or service (as chosen by the court).
- Remain drug and alcohol free during the period of probation and submit to tests which prove this.
- Make reasonable efforts to secure and maintain employment.
- Comply with a plan for at least 100 hours of community service for a felony or 24 hours for a misdemeanor.
- If the court does not suspend or revoke your license, they will also require an additional 50 hours of community service.
Upon completing the program, you can return to the court and have your charges dismissed. However, the arrest itself cannot be expunged, and will still show up on background checks.
Failure to complete the program results in an automatic guilty verdict, as well as a permanent bar from ever taking the program again.
Overall, Virginia’s laws tend to treat the possession and distribution of marijuana as lesser charges compared to other drugs. However, that doesn’t mean that marijuana-related charges aren’t a big deal.
On the contrary, being convicted for even simple possession of marijuana can result in substantial fines and a permanent criminal record. As always, your best bet for avoiding the worst of these penalties is to get in touch with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.