Updated on February 2, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
2017 Election Update: Newly Elected Ralph Northam has promoted decriminalization of marijuana in Virginia. Though he has not supported legalization, this could mean big changes for patients looking for medical marijuana recommendations in Virginia.
Medical marijuana in Virginia is limited to an extremely small minority of seriously ill patients, and it is not what would commonly be referred to as a true medicinal cannabis program. Most states with these programs allow seriously ill patients to legally possess marijuana or marijuana extracts without fear of arrest — but not Virginia. People suffering from seizures can claim what is known as an “affirmative defense” if they are caught possessing cannabidiol (CBD) oil.
An affirmative defense simply means that a person can claim in court that he or she has a medical condition that requires the use of CBD. That person can still be arrested in Virginia, and forced to stay in jail until his or her trial, simply for possessing this form of medicine. The defense in this instance would be that the person has severe epilepsy, and his or her doctor issued a certification stating that fact.
As you can imagine, Virginia law has no system of providing access to CBD oil for patients. Not only does a patient have to deal with potential legal hassles in their own state for possessing the oil, but he or she has to go out of state to get it. That puts the patient at the added risk of potentially facing federal charges for transporting a marijuana extract across state lines.
The State of Virginia does not have a medical marijuana program at this time, as the state has yet to pass any laws that would effectively allow for one to be legally created. However, the State of Virginia passed House Bill 1445, after the bill was signed by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, on February 26, 2015, thereby allowing patients to use an affirmative defense from prosecution, in the case of medical marijuana in the form of cannabidiol (CBD) oil — CBD is one of the many cannabinoids in cannabis shown to hold medical benefit for treating conditions such as uncontrollable seizure disorders, including epilepsy.
As per HB 1445, the CBD cannabis oil may not exceed more than 5% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and a minimum of 15% CBD.
Virginia lawmakers at least made a bit of progress during the 2017 legislative session toward showing some compassion for patients who need CBD oil. They approved a bill that would allow licensed processors to start producing CBD oil low in THC (the psychoactive component in cannabis) for epileptic patients. While this would improve access, it does nothing to change the fact that people can still be arrested for possessing CBD oil. As of March 2017, the bill was awaiting Governor Terry McAuliffe’s signature before it would become law.
But even though this is a sensible piece of reform, the state still has a long way to go to truly have a workable medical cannabis program. The current law still puts patients at risk for an arrest, and it also denies therapeutic marijuana products to people suffering from conditions such as cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma, Lou Gehrig’s disease and many, many others. Instead, patients suffering from these and other diseases have to either turn to powerful (and in many instances, addictive) medications or risk substantial jail time by obtaining weed illegally.
On March 5, 2017, the Roanoke Times ran an editorial stating the time is now for the establishment of a true Virginia medical marijuana program. The editorial was in response to a recent visit that a retired judge had made to the newspaper’s office. Judge Richard Pattisall was there to advocate on behalf of patients who want access to legal medical cannabis. Not only would legalizing medical marijuana be an act of compassion that would benefit the seriously ill, but it would also bring substantial economic benefits to the state.
According to the editorial, Virginia would be wise to follow the example of Illinois, which legalized medicinal weed in 2014. Small towns throughout the state saw major economic windfalls, and several jobs were created in the process. The Illinois program features well-secured cultivation centers that have video cameras monitoring every inch of the facilities as well as a strict system of regulation. All plants moving through these centers are tagged with ID numbers so they can be tracked through every phase of their development, from when they are seeds to when they are sold.
Plants are placed in tightly secured vaults, where they wait until they are shipped. Drivers transport plants in locked boxes to dispensaries throughout the state, and they must call a laboratory to obtain the special code needed to open the box.
The editorial went on to mention that a bill actually passed the state Senate that would have allowed people suffering from a variety of conditions to legally possess medical cannabis. The bill was approved by a 29-11 margin in the Republican-controlled Senate, but it was unable to get out of a House subcommittee. As a result, the legislation will have to be revived another day.
Since there really is no Virginia medical marijuana program, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that cannabis laws in the state are harsh. Anyone caught with less than a half an ounce of pot will face a jail term of up to 30 days and a fine of as much as $500 — and that’s just for a first offense. If you are caught a second or subsequent time, the penalties jump to up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. The law formerly also called for an automatic six-month driver’s license suspension for a first-time offense of weed possession, but that stipulation was taken out of the law during the 2017 legislative session.
The penalties for the sale, manufacture or trafficking of pot are even more devastating. A felony conviction of the sale of between a half an ounce to five pounds of pot will lead to one to 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine. Anyone convicted of selling between five pounds and 100 kilograms of pot will spend five to 30 years in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Virginia does, however, make an interesting distinction between selling weed and giving it away. If you can prove in court that you did not receive any remuneration from a marijuana transaction, you would only be found guilty of a misdemeanor. This means you would face a maximum of a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. That’s obviously still a harsh penalty for giving away some pot, but at least it’s not a felony offense.
People caught possessing or selling marijuana paraphernalia face up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500, while providing paraphernalia to a minor (who is at least three years younger) faces the same penalties. In addition, Virginia is a civil asset forfeiture states. This means law enforcement agency can seize cars and other assets from people suspected of marijuana-related crimes, whether or not those people ever face criminal charges.
Learn more in our section on Virginia marijuana laws.
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Read Virginia’s Full Medical Marijuana Laws to gain full specific knowledge of Virginia’s exact legal guidelines without interpretation.