Weeding out Virginia’s new marijuana laws: Legalizing possession a start, but more needs to be done, advocates say

Marijuana in Virginia

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — July 1 marked the advent of Virginia leading the South in legalizing marijuana possession. For 51 years, since 1970, pro-pot supporters have pushed for this day. 

It’s not a perfect law, but supporters will take it and not look a “gift horse in the face.” More legislation and revisiting many sections of the new law will take place in the General Assembly in January. 

On Thursday morning, WAVY met up with William, who was smoking marijuana at home out of public view.   

“Now we are able to do this,” says William, who lights up a rolled marijuana cigarette. 

“Yes, there is a sense of liberation with each inhale,” he says after being asked whether he feels different smoking what is finally legal.

Full coverage: WAVY’s Marijuana in Virginia page

“It feels good not to have to hide it in our houses and keep it all a secret.” 

The big parts of the new law allow for those who want to take a smoke in Virginia to do so with some restrictions.  

Those who are over 21 can have up to an ounce. You can’t smoke in public, and you can’t offer it to others in public.  

You can grow four plants per household, not per person, but those plants can’t be visible from the street. 

“I have been working on this for three terms now,” says Portsmouth Delegate Steve Heretick (D). 

If there is a father of Virginia’s new marijuana law, it could be Del. Heretick.  

“When I introduced these bills, you could hear the crickets chirping. They were killed in nanoseconds.” 

It is clear that politically this would not have happened had Democrats not taken over the General Assembly in recent years. The final bills to legalize were voted on along party lines. Democrats want it and Republicans voted no.  

Heretick admits there’s work to do.

“There are a number of conflicts: for example, beginning July first of this year it is legal to possess marijuana, it is legal to grow four plants per household, but it is not legal to buy or sell marijuana.” 

To get the law across the finish line, it was conceded that buying and selling would be scheduled to begin July 2024 under the authority of the Cannabis Control Authority Board and not the ABC Board.

You can’t buy seeds, which you need to grow the 4 plants per household, but a friend can give you the seeds as long as you don’t pay for them.  

You can’t transport marijuana in a vehicle unless it’s in a sealed container in the trunk of a car. If you have a vehicle that doesn’t have a trunk, then the marijuana must be sealed in a container on the floor behind the last row of seats.  

“NORML VIRGINIA has been working for over 50 years to reform marijuana laws,” says NORML Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini. 

NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is still concerned about recreational users being fired or not hired to jobs due to marijuana use. As part of the agreement to get the law passed, if the job does not permit the use of marijuana as a condition of employment, then that governs.   

It should also be noted that marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, which complicates anything dealing with the federal level of government.

“We have to ensure continued expungement in clearing past convictions of peoples records,” Pedini adds.

That is another complicated point. 

“I became a felon at an early age for possessing marijuana,” Norfolk resident Charles Rasputin admitted in a sit-down interview. 

For about 20 years Rasputin has helped lead the charge to legalize marijuana. He’s had his rights restored, but looks for his record to be expunged. 

“I have found my way into a productive life. I wanted to use my talents for communicating, for organizing to help keep young people away from that sort of trouble dealing with cannabis. If I could guide my state and region into a place that is safer for everyone then that’s what I wanted to do.” 

“We know by pulling marijuana out of the shadows, it will actually improve public safety,” noted Norfolk Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Ramin Fatehi, who wrote the first policy in Hampton Roads to not prosecute simple possession of marijuana. He is running unopposed to become Norfolk’s next commonwealth’s attorney in the November elections.  

“It is also going to violence because there are marijuana dealers who become targets for violence, there are home invasions and the theft of cash.” 

10 On Your Side asked Fatehi whether Norfolk will bring people in for illegal seeds transported across state lines, having more than four plants in a household, or any of the other nuances of the law. 

“I have a tough time seeing doing that for someone acting responsibly and is not a dealer.” 

That brings us back to William, who’s celebrating Thursday something for him more important than legalizing marijuana.

“My son was also born on July 1, which is epic. I think that is pretty cool.” 

Full coverage: WAVY’s Marijuana in Virginia page

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