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Clarifying The Law | What you need to know before marijuana possession is legal next week in Virginia

Here's a quest to clarify any confusion ahead of the day new laws regarding marijuana possession in Virginia go into effect July 1.

VIRGINIA, USA — In a little more than a week, it will be legal to possess marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia. But that does not mean residents will be able to use the substance wherever they want.

Here are some questions that you may have ahead of the new law going into place on July 1: 

How old do I have to be to legally possess marijuana in Virginia and can I grow the plant at my resident(s)?

In the spring, the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill that would allow adults 21 and up to legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis beginning July 1. The legislation, which was signed by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, also allows people to cultivate up to four plants in their home.

Can I smoke marijuana in public in the Commonwealth of Virginia?

While Virginians will be able to use cannabis in private locations, the law states they will not be able to use the substance in public spaces. Possession of cannabis on school grounds or a school bus, possession of an open container of cannabis in a vehicle, and the sharing or offering of cannabis in public is also illegal, according to Virginia NORML.

The law states any person who violates that rule is subject to a civil penalty of no more than $25 for a first offense. Any person who breaks that rule a second time will have to pay $25 and enter either a substance abuse treatment or education program.

How will Virginia colleges and universities be responding to these new laws?

Many universities in Virginia have also said they will not allow students or staff to use marijuana on campus.

The Student Affairs Office at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg cited federal law as its reason for not allowing cannabis on campus.

“Although Virginia law will permit, as of July 1, the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis and use of cannabis for individuals 21 and older, federal law still prohibits all use, possession, and/or cultivation of marijuana at U.S. educational institutions.

Federal law also requires institutions of higher education that receive federal funding, like University of Mary Washington, to have policies in place prohibiting possession and use of cannabis on campus.”

Other universities like Virginia Tech and Shenandoah University have also come out with similar statements saying they will continue to prohibit cannabis use on campus going forward.

Now that pot is legal for personal consumption, are you allowed to smoke it at work in the designated smoking area?

You can personally possess up to one ounce of marijuana, the key term is for 21 years and up. Four plants — two mature and two immature — per household. But when I think about private use, that's within home and private property vs. out in public. We want people to be aware of where they're growing it and where they're having it.

According to the advocacy group Virginia NORML, legalized possession applies both in private and in public. But when it comes to consumption, it may be legal to use it on a private residence but public consumption will still be illegal.

"As long as you don’t have intent to distribute, give or sell to a minor or intoxicated person. As long as you have it, but no intent to distribute, that’s legal," said Ashna Khanna of Virginia ACLU. 

Can your business/work make rules either for or against having pot in your possession? Can an employer still drug test employees?

As private companies, they can put their conditions and they can also drug test. Employers who want to still in their drug test consider marijuana an illegal substance — as something they’re not accepting — that can still very much be the case. 

Khanna says that while possession is legalized in the eyes of the law, private companies will have the right to operate with their own set of work conditions and guidelines, and says it will depend on each company individually.

It’s up to each company themselves and obviously, it makes a difference if it’s a national or state company. It’s up to them whether they want to drug test you according to company policy, but they can be OK with it as well. But depending on the job, employer, some companies are OK with it and may not even drug test.

Virginia recently unveiled a new website to inform residents about what is legal and illegal in regard to the Commonwealth’s new cannabis law. You can go to that website by clicking here.

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