The Legal Status of Marijuana in Virginia

On new year’s eve this year, my wife and I were watching CNN when we saw something that surprised us. A CNN reporter was reporting from a “pot and paint” party in Colorado, where people were actively smoking and consuming marijuana on national television. Even the reporter had a marijuana cigarette in her hand. This year, California voted to legalize marijuana and joined 7 other states that have legalized it. The national legal landscape of marijuana has become a patchwork quilt of differing laws, rules, and regulations. 

This begs the question, what is the legal status of marijuana in Virginia? To start with, it should be noted that possession of marijuana, whether medicinal or not, is prohibited under federal law. Virginia Code Section 18.2-250.1 provides that “it is unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to possess marijuana unless the substance was obtained directly from, or pursuant to a valid prescription or order of a practitioner while acting in the course of his professional practice.” In other words, possessing marijuana without a valid prescription can subject one to criminal prosecution. A first time offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to thirty days in jail and a fine of $ 500.00. A second or subsequent offense is a class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. In addition, what may surprise many is that a conviction will result in a driver’s license suspension for 6 months, which can have a great impact on one’s ability to work or function in day to day life. 

Moreover, marijuana use can have a wider impact on family law cases, particularly those involving custody and visitation of children. When deciding custody and visitation cases, judges will employ what is known as the best interests test, a 10 factor test found in Code Section 20-124.3. One of the factors listed is the mental and physical health of both parents, which includes drug use or substance abuse issues. Parents may be drug tested any time they appear in court, and marijuana or any illegal drug use can play a role in a court’s decision to award custody or visitation, particularly if it can be shown that it impacts the well-being of the children in question. While attitudes toward marijuana use in particular will vary by court and judge, it is safe to say at the moment that there are a considerable number of judges, especially in more rural counties, that hold a conservative view toward marijuana use. 

Finally, students enrolled in a Virginia college or university and receiving federal loans should also be aware that a marijuana conviction could impact their ability to obtain financial aid. FAFSA (Federal Application For Student Aid) forms require applicants to answer whether they were convicted of drug charges while receiving federal student aid. Any student charged with a marijuana offense should immediately seek the advice of legal counsel. 

To understand how a marijuana charge or marijuana use could affect your criminal or family law case, please contact me at jbaez@hmalaw.com or at 804-320-6600.

This post is provided as an educational service and should not be construed as legal advice. Readers in need of assistance with a legal matter should retain the services of competent counsel.