Legal Services Blog: Marijuana can land you in the joint

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October 24, 2011

7:59 PM

Marijuana legalization support crops up everywhere from Family Guy to Bill Maher’s endless rants on HBO. It’s legal in many states if you have a doctor’s prescription. Now, you might conclude that so much cultural and media support means that marijuana use isn’t really a crime. Or if it is, it’s not so bad.

Bypassing the fact that you take your legal advice from a smattering of stoned TV writers, consider me the Sadness Fairy here to shove ziplock baggies full of legal reality under your pillow.

In Virginia, according to Code § 18.2-250.1—aptly titled “Possession of marijuana unlawful,”—it’s, well, illegal to possess marijuana in Virginia. In the Code’s own words:

“It is unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to possess marijuana unless the substance was obtained directly from, or pursuant to, a valid prescription…”

This means a couple of things. First, it’s enough that you are aware that you’re holding pot: it doesn’t matter if you don’t plan to smoke it. So don’t think you can “hold” for your friends without facing the same consequences as you would if you were actually planning to smoke it. Second, Virginia does have an exception for medical uses. That’s great if you have a prescription- get busy lighting up. But I’m guessing if you’re reading this you probably don’t have a doctor on call to write you a prescription for when you want to get stoned.

The statute continues: “Upon the prosecution of a person for violation of this section, ownership or occupancy of the premises or vehicle upon or in which marijuana was found shall not create a presumption that such person either knowingly or intentionally possessed such marijuana.” Code § 18.2-250.1.

This little sentence actually helps you out quite a bit. If you have friends who hide pot in your car and you don’t know about it, there’s no presumption that it’s yours.

According to § 18.2-250.1, possession is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $500.

Now you might think that’s not so bad. And maybe it isn’t. But here’s the rub: a second violation bumps the same crime up to a Class 1 misdemeanor. And the punishment for a Class 1 misdemeanor, according to § 18.2-11, is up to a year in jail, a fine of $2,500, or both.

To recap: 1. Marijuana possession is illegal. 2. Getting caught is bad. 3. Getting caught twice is worse. 4. Become friends with med students.

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