By: Michael E. Hollingsworth, Criminal Defense Attorney, Nichols Zauzig
As a criminal defense lawyer, I’m frequently asked about the status of marijuana laws in Virginia. Current activities in Prince William County, Virginia and nationwide indicate momentum may be building for legalizing marijuana soon. However, recent trends also suggest that you should still be vigilant about following existing laws.
1. Marijuana will be to made and sold legally in a Manassas plant in 2019
Manassas is one of the five locations in Virginia where medical cannabis oil will be produced and sold in 2019 under Board of Pharmacy permits granted late last year. Dalitso LLC secured a 50,000-square-foot pharmaceutical processor facility in Manassas and will cultivate the cannabis and process the raw oil to create CBD oil and THC-A oil products. Dalitso will also dispense the oil to registered patients who have certificates from their doctors. After the first visit, home deliveries will be allowed.
2. Many medical conditions qualify for cannabis oil use
Just last year, Virginia greatly expanded the medical conditions that can be treated by medical marijuana with a doctor’s prescription. Up until last year, only intractable epilepsy could legally be treated with cannabis oil here. In 2018, the law was relaxed to allow medical marijuana prescriptions for any medical issue deemed appropriate by a doctor, which often includes conditions like PTSD, cancer treatment side effects and chronic pain. To find out how to register for treatment in Manassas, or find a doctor who may prescribe cannabis oil, visit the Virginia Norml website.
3. Prominent politicians are pushing to legalize pot nationally.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, with support from fellow Democratic 2020 Presidential contenders, reintroduced the Marijuana Justice Act in Congress late last month. This potential new law would remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances. States would be encouraged with financial incentives to relax marijuana laws.
4. Criminal records for marijuana may be expunged
Under the Marijuana Justice Act, nonviolent offenders convicted on marijuana-related charges would be allowed to seek expungement and/or to petition courts for shorter sentences. Right now in Virginia, a conviction for first offense of marijuana possession will show up on your background check for seven years in private employment, and will appear on your record forever if seeking a security clearance or employment with the federal government. Expunging those records could be a game-changer for many Northern Virginians.
See related article: Is expungement possible in Virginia?
5. Virginia arrests for pot possession are rising
Despite an attempt in January to bring a decriminalization bill before the House of Delegates, recreational marijuana remains illegal here. In fact, Virginia arrests for pot possession are at their highest in nearly a decade. The rate had been falling, but in 2017, arrests rose 20 percent to nearly 28,000 people. In Prince William County, 41% more marijuana arrests were made in 2017 than the year before. Several explanations are offered by experts. For example, since marijuana is now legal in Washington, D.C., Northern Virginians can easily buy the drug and bring it home. With so many other states legalizing marijuana laws, people are becoming desensitized and careless, carrying it in pockets or leaving it in cars. But the penalties in Virginia can have many negative consequences in addition to a criminal record. Conviction may lead to fines, jail time, suspension of a driver’s license, substance abuse counseling and community service requirements. These can be difficult to overcome if child care and job schedules are involved.
6. Be careful where you carry or smoke marijuana
Currently in Virginia, possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor and a first offense can carry the previously mentioned penalties, including up to 30 days in jail and a fine up to $500. More serious charges arise when the offender is within the boundaries of Virginia, but on federally owned land; for example: Manassas Battlefield Park, Wolf Trap Farm Park, Prince William Forest Park and along the George Washington Parkway. In this case, marijuana possession of any amount as a first offense carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines.
7. Experienced marijuana defense matters
Until marijuana is legalized, drug offenses can be damaging to careers and families. If you have been charged with a marijuana possession or distribution offense, seek out experienced legal help immediately.
Our criminal defense team has 25 years of experience in Manassas, Prince William County, Stafford, Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria and in the federal Eastern District Court of the United States. Our client reviews speak volumes about the dedication and knowledge we bring to cases like this. Let me devote those same qualities to fight your marijuana drug charges. Call and schedule your free consultation today at 703-492-4200, or send an email.