2016 is going to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. This is our seventh post in the series and the following is a recap of where we are with the rankings, from worst (number 50) to this week’s number 43: Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
Criminal Penalties. In Virginia, Less than one-half ounce of marijuana qualifies as “simple possession” and can result in a 30-day jail sentence and a $500 fine. Possession of that amount with intent to sell is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine.
Higher amounts of marijuana result in higher penalties, as follows:Selling
- Selling more than one-half ounce but less than five pounds is punishable by 1-1o years imprisonment and a fine up to $2,500.
- Selling more than five pounds, but less than 100 kg is punishable by 5-30 years imprisonment and a fine of up to a $30,000.
- Distributing more than 100kg of marijuana is punishable with a minimum 20 years and up to a life sentence, which a judge may reduce based on a list of factors. That’s right folks, a life sentence for cannabis.
Penalties may be reduced if a defendant can show they “gifted” the marijuana to another without expecting reimbursement in return. However, one strange caveat to this is that the defendant must not “induce the recipient or intended recipient of the marijuana to use or become addicted to or dependent upon such marijuana.” So the penalties are only reduced if the defendant was not seeking to get the recipient addicted to marijuana. Setting aside that science seems to have shown that cannabis is not addictive, this appears to be very difficult to prove in a court of law.
Perhaps the harshest element of Virginia criminal penalties is that the State has a three-strike policy when it comes to marijuana: a third offense for selling marijuana can result in a minimum of five years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison!
Medical Marijuana. Though Virginia’s medical marijuana program leaves much to be desired, there is reason for optimism. On February 18, 2016, the Virginia State Senate approved SB 701, which would allow for production of CBD and THC oils for patients with intractable epilepsy. Virginia currently allows epilepsy patients to use high-CBD low-THC oils, but provides for no legal means to produce these oils. According to The Roanoke Star, advocates are excited about this potential law change. Beth Collins of Americans for Safe Access, had the following comments on SB 701:
Patients and their families undergo incredible daily stress managing uncontrolled seizures. Breaking laws to obtain this treatment, is an additional stressor these families do not need. Yesterday’s vote is a just another small victory towards ensuring these patients have safe, reliable access to this treatment. The passage of SB701 would have a dramatic impact on the lives of patients by further expanding the medical cannabis program to allow access within the state of Virginia to low-THC extracts.
But even if SB 701 does pass, Virginia would still have a very restrictive medical regime with only a very small number of patients having access to CBD oil.
Future Legalization. Support for marijuana reform is growing in Virginia. A 2015 poll conducted by Quinnipiac University showed the following:
- Around 86% of Virginia voters support legalization of medical marijuana.
- Roughly 54% of Virginia voters support legalization of recreational marijuana.
- But only 15% of Virginia voters say they definitely or probably would use marijuana if it were legal.
Virginia has a referendum process, but it is complicated and rarely used. This means that legalization in Virginia probably will need to come from its state legislature, which makes full legalization very unlikely for now.
Bottomline. Virginia’s criminal laws are draconian and truly terrible. No one should serve a life sentence for pot. However, at the time of this writing, we were unable to find anything indicating that anyone in Virginia is serving a life sentence for marijuana. Despite progress in medical cannabis and growing support for cannabis law reform, Virginia still remains one of the worst states for marijuana.