Virginia has officially become the first state in the South to legalize marijuana.

However, with legal sales not due to start until early 2024, what exactly does the law change entail? Here’s an overview of what you need to know regarding marijuana legalization in Virginia.

Adults 21 and older are now legally permitted to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and grow up to four plants per household for personal use. Virginia’s legal cannabis market won’t be up and running for several years, but adults are allowed to gift up to an ounce of marijuana to each other, as long as it doesn’t take the form of a reciprocal transaction.

Possessing between one ounce and one pound of marijuana in public remains illegal but is now only punishable by a maximum civil fine of $25 without the threat of arrest or jail time. This rule change means Virginia now has the most lenient cannabis possession laws in the US. Possession of more than one pound of cannabis, however, is still considered a felony offense that could result in a prison sentence.

Minors under 21 years of age are not allowed to possess, use or buy any amount of cannabis. Those who do could receive a $25 fine, which may be waived upon completion of a drug education course.

Virginia’s new marijuana law includes various social equity provisions aimed at redressing the harms caused by the disproportionate enforcement of the state’s marijuana laws against Black people in particular. After already expunging simple marijuana possession criminal records last year, the new law automatically seals the records of all arrests, charges and convictions for misdemeanor cannabis possession with intent to distribute offenses. This process must be completed by July 1, 2025 at the latest under the law change. For other marijuana-related offenses, Virginians will be able to petition the courts to have their record sealed. In so doing, structural barriers to housing, employment and education will be removed for tens of thousands of people, primarily from Black communities.

The new law also seeks to promote equity and diversity in the legal cannabis industry in Virginia. It establishes a Business Equity and Diversity Support Team (BEDST) under the auspices of the state marijuana regulator, the Cannabis Control Authority (CCA). The BEDST will offer technical assistance to social equity applicants, reach out to individuals from marginalized communities about running a cannabis business, and report on the barriers that continue to prevent women, minorities and those on low-incomes from participating equitably in the legal industry as business owners. The CCA will also administer a loan program for social equity applicants to help get their marijuana business up and running.

Virginia’s cannabis reform also establishes the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund, which will receive 30 percent of marijuana tax profits. This is estimated at $26 million in the first year of sales, rising to $128 million by year five. This money will directly support community-led projects and programs aimed at redressing some of the damage caused by cannabis prohibition, such as providing legal aid, substance misuse treatments and job placements.

The CCA is now busy drawing up the rules and regulations that will govern Virginia’s legal marijuana industry. Its proposals will, however, require the approval of the General Assembly in 2022 before becoming law. This means the CCA is unlikely to finalize the state’s marijuana regulations nor start accepting applications from prospective marijuana businesses until 2023. Until this is done, it will remain illegal for businesses and individuals alike to sell marijuana.

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