The state of Virginia has decriminalized marijuana, but what does that mean?

Criminal Law Attorney Rebecca Wade shares her insight on what the new legislation entails, the punishments of possession of marijuana and other related offenses.

What Does Decriminalization Of Marijuana Mean?

The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation that moves marijuana possession from the classification of a crime to a civil infraction. This means possessing small amounts of marijuana is still illegal, but it is not a crime. A similar example is speeding in your car. If you’re caught, you get a ticket with a fine, but it’s not added to your criminal record.

If you’re found possessing up to one ounce of marijuana, police will issue you a summons–leaving you with two options. You can either plead not guilty and go to court to argue your case or you can pay a statutory fine of $25. If you choose to pay the civil penalty, the case is sealed and will not go on your criminal record, you will not face jail time, and you will not be on probation or have to attend drug treatment classes. 

There Are Still Crimes Associated With The Possession Of Marijuana. 

While possession of marijuana is no longer a criminal offense, this hasn’t changed the repercussions of other drug-related charges. Possession of marijuana with intent to distribute is still a criminal offense. Likewise, if you are caught selling drugs or driving under the influence of drugs you are still subject to criminal charges.

What Does the Decriminalization of Marijuana Mean For Search And Seizure? 

Under the Constitution, if a police officer smells marijuana, they have probable cause to search you and your vehicle. Police reform activists are advocating for the smell of marijuana to be disqualified as the probable cause since possession is no longer a crime, but the General Assembly has not yet weighed in or passed any formal legislation on this distinction.

“It is likely that until the General Assembly takes action, a police officer will still be able to search your car on the claim of the smell of marijuana,” Wade says.  

About Wade Grimes Friedman Meinken & Leischner

Wade Grimes Friedman Meinken & Leischner PLLC is here for you during this difficult time by continuing to remain open and fully functioning. Whether you’re having a family law, protective order, estate planning, bankruptcy or criminal law-related issue, our attorneys are available for phone or video consultations to meet your needs. To schedule a consultation, email Rebecca Wade at or contact us through our website and we will respond promptly.