A Comparison of Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland Marijuana Laws

While marijuana is still illegal under federal law, many states have moved towards decriminalizing the simple possession of recreational marijuana or have at least passed bills legalizing the use of medicinal marijuana. Four states and the District of Columbia have even fully legalized the use of marijuana for recreational use.  Under the Obama administration, federal authorities have been directed not to interfere with or enforce the federal laws in states that have legalized marijuana.

Before comparing the different laws, it is important to understand the difference between legalization and decriminalization. States that have decriminalized marijuana will not criminally prosecute or seek to jail individuals for certain amounts of marijuana but may still outlaw possession over certain amounts or outlaw the distribution or manufacture of marijuana. In addition, these states may still assess fines or give tickets, which are treated similar to civil infractions, to those who merely possess a specified amount of marijuana. Buying and selling remains unregulated, untaxed and is still a crime in states that have adopted the decriminalization model.

In states that have fully legalized marijuana, there are no penalties for the personal use and possession of marijuana, neither criminal prosecution nor civil fines (although some states still impose limits on the amount of the substance that can be possessed legally).  Furthermore, in some of these states, there are laws that regulate the buying and selling of the substance, allowing businesses with permits to sell recreational marijuana in compliance with local and state regulations and to pay taxes like any other legal business. One state that has adopted this model is Colorado. Below is a discussion of the marijuana laws as they currently stand in the DMV area.

VIRGINIA  (Possession and sale illegal, neither decriminalized nor legalized, very limited medical exception.)

Marijuana is still illegal in Virginia. Even possession of very small amounts or evidence of marijuana residue is enough to sustain a criminal conviction.  Virginia has not legalized the use of medicinal marijuana, despite the fact that 86% of Virginia voters support such a bill.  There is a very narrow medical exception for sufferers of intractable epilepsy who are allowed to use their condition as an affirmative defense in a prosecution.  For more information on this click here.

First time simple possession of any amount is an unclassified misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail, a $500 fine, either or both. A second possession conviction is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, a $2,500 fine, either or both.

The possession with intent to distribute marijuana, less than one half ounce, is also a Class 1 Misdemeanor. However, distribution of greater than one half ounce is a felony.

WASHINGTON D.C. (Legalized for possession and some cultivation in primary residence, broad medical use allowed, and decriminalized for possession by minors. Sale still illegal and unregulated.)

In Washington D.C., possession of marijuana in the individual’s primary residence is legal up to a certain amount. An individual 21 years of age or older is allowed to purchase, possess, and transport up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use. The transfer without payment up to one ounce to another individual over 21 years of age or older is also permitted. The district also allows for the cultivation of six marijuana plants, with no more than 3 being mature at a time, by adults 21 and older in their primary residences. The adults may possess all of the cannabis grown by the plants at the same location.

However, the district has not legalized the sale of marijuana and it is still not regulated as it is in Washington state or Colorado. Furthermore, marijuana is still illegal by federal law.  Smoking marijuana in public is also still illegal. Public use of marijuana is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. The D.C. motto on marijuana is “Home Grow, Home Use.”

D.C. also has a medical marijuana program that allows physicians to recommend the drug for a wide array of illnesses and conditions.

MARYLAND (Simple possession decriminalized but not legalized, fairly broad medical use allowed.)

Maryland has legalized medical marijuana and has also decriminalized the possession of marijuana for recreational use. For possession of less than 10 grams, an individual will not be criminally prosecuted or go to jail but may be assessed a fine up to $100. With a second offense, the fine may go up to $250 and with a third, the fine goes up to $500 with required attendance at a drug program.

If an individual possesses more than 10 grams, but less than 50 lbs., that is a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of one year in jail and a maximum fine of $1000. Possession of 50lbs. or more is a felony punishable by a maximum of five years in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.

Maryland is currently in the process of implementing its new medicinal marijuana program. The marijuana must be prescribed by physicians who are approved by the state. Patients must be qualified, based on their ailment or condition and other factors, to receive a prescription.

*Information in this article is not meant to be legal advice and is subject to change. The author makes no guarantee of the accuracy of any information contained therein.