Virginia lawmakers recently initiated discussions regarding the decriminalization of marijuana possession in the state; to be sure, this includes HB 972, which would decriminalize simple marijuana possession and penalize those caught with marijuana with a small fee of $25, and Senate Bill 2, which would also lead to decriminalization, both of which have been advanced in legislative bodies. However, until these are signed into law by the governor, current law still states that possession of marijuana is a crime that is punishable by jail time and fines. However, having a drug conviction on one’s criminal record can have other significant repercussions, making it more difficult to secure housing, find employment, or take advantage of educational opportunities. Mounting a strong defense is one of the best ways to avoid these consequences, so if you were recently arrested for drug possession, it is important to contact an experienced drug crime attorney who can help protect your interests.
Current Marijuana Possession Laws
Currently, under Virginia law, it is unlawful for anyone to knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana. Those who are arrested for this offense could face Class U misdemeanor charges and if convicted, up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. A subsequent charge, on the other hand, is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor, and as such, is punishable by a $2,500 fine, up to a year in prison, and the potential suspension of the person’s driver’s license. This prohibition, however, does not apply when a substance was obtained from a valid practitioner.
Those who are accused of possessing more than half an ounce of marijuana, however, can be charged with a Class 5 felony (even if it is a first time offense) for possession with the intent to distribute. Defendants who are convicted of this offense face up to ten years imprisonment, in addition to hefty fines. Possession of more than five pounds of marijuana is penalized even more harshly by a potential prison term of up to 30 years.
Actual vs. Constructive Possession
It’s important to note that Virginia law specifically states that just because a person owns or occupies the premises or vehicle where marijuana is found, does not mean that a court will presume that the person in question knowingly possessed the drug. Instead, if a person is arrested, not with marijuana on his or her person, but in that individual’s home or vehicle, prosecutors will be required to prove constructive possession, or that the accused had the ability to access and exercise control over the substance. If, on the other hand, marijuana is found on someone’s person, prosecutors will not usually be required to prove that the drugs belonged to that individual. Generally, charges based on constructive possession are much more difficult to prove, as prosecutors must provide evidence demonstrating that a defendant had both access to and control over the drugs in question.
Cannabidiol or THC-A Oil
There is one major exception to Virginia’s marijuana possession laws that applies to cannabidiol and THC-A oil. Under the terms of this exception, individuals who are found in possession of these substances and who have a valid written certification issued by a physician can avoid being charged with possession, but only if:
- The oil was issued to treat the symptoms of a diagnosed medical condition;
- The individual is the parent or guardian of a minor or an incapacitated adult suffering from a diagnosed condition; or
- The individual was previously designated as a registered agent of someone with a valid prescription for the substance.
Those who satisfy these requirements and who file a valid certification with the court no less than ten days prior to trial are considered to have provided prima facie evidence that the substance was possessed lawfully.
Virginia’s First Offender Program
Virginia offers a first offender program to qualifying individuals who have been accused of possessing marijuana for the first time and have agreed to plead guilty to the charge in court. Those who are accepted into this program will be placed on probation and must:
- Successfully complete a treatment or education program;
- Remain drug and alcohol free during the probationary period;
- Make reasonable efforts to secure and maintain employment; and
- Perform at least 100 hours of community service for a felony or 24 hours for a misdemeanor.
Upon completion of the program, participants will have their charges dismissed. Record of the arrest unfortunately, will not be expunged, but may show up on future background checks. Finally, any failure to complete the program will result in an automatic guilty verdict and a prohibition against future enrollment in the program.
Experienced Virginia Drug Crime Lawyers
If you were recently arrested for possession of marijuana or another unlawful drug, please call 703-591-0200 today to speak with one of the experienced criminal defense lawyers at Whitestone Young, PC about your legal options.