Media reports about changes to the drug laws in other jurisdictions, particularly those pertaining to the possession of marijuana, could create confusion about Virginia marijuana laws and drug possession laws in general. The criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of John W. Lee, P.C., believe it is important for people to know that possession of drugs, including marijuana, is a crime subjecting convicted offenders in Hampton Roads and other commonwealth communities to harsh and severe penalties.
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 is the starting point to understating drug laws in Virginia and the USA. It includes five schedules of controlled substances. The schedule in which a substance is listed depends on the following:
- The substance's potential for abuse
- Likelihood of the substance causing dependency in users
- Known and accepted medical uses of the substance
Legislators in Virginia adopted drug schedules similar to those in the federal law, but they included a sixth schedule, Virginia schedule VI drug offenses, when they enacted the drug laws. The seriousness of the drug offenses and the penalties associated with them depends upon the schedule in which they are listed and the quantity found on a person at the time of arrest.
Drug Schedules in Virginia
The six drug schedules in the commonwealth are the following:
- Virginia schedule I drug offenses: These are the most serious offenses involving drugs with the greatest potential for abuse and dependency. Included in the list of substances are heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
- Virginia schedule II drug offenses: Cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine and morphine are drugs included in schedule II. These are drugs with high potential for abuse and dependency, but there might be some medical uses for them.
- Virginia schedule III drug offenses: This schedule includes codeine, ketamine and anabolic steroids.
- Virginia schedule IV drug offenses: Most of the drugs in this schedule have medical uses, but they require a prescription from a physician or other medical professional. Drugs in schedule IV include Valium, Xanax and Talwin.
- Virginia schedule V drug offenses: Most of the drugs listed in this schedule are opiate-based, such as codeine. A prescription is required to legally possess these drugs.
- Virginia schedule VI drug offenses: This schedule includes any medication not listed in any of the other five schedules. The commonwealth includes in this category those substances that might not fall within the conventional meaning of the word "drugs." Included in this schedule are nitrous oxide, toluene, amyl nitrate and butyl nitrate.
Marijuana is included on the list of Virginia schedule I drug offenses, but possession of it is treated under its own section of the law.
Virginia Drug Crimes
The primary categories of drug offenses in Hampton and elsewhere throughout the commonwealth are the following:
- Drug possession
- Possession with intent to distribute
Possession with intent to distribute or to sell does not, necessarily, have to involve the exchange of a controlled substance for money. Bartering, gifting and other transactions can be prosecuted as sales and distribution of drugs under commonwealth law.
Virginia Drug Crimes (cont.)
Manufacturing or production of controlled substances has become more widespread with the popularity of drugs produced through chemical synthesis. Virginia synthetic marijuana and Virginia spice laws are examples of laws targeting the use of chemicals to produce or alter other substances to create something that is illegal.
Drug Crime Penalties
The penalties imposed for conviction of a drug offense depends upon the amount of drugs, the schedule in which the drugs are listed and whether the person is charged with possessing, distributing or selling, or manufacturing. For example, the following are some of the penalties for possession of substances found on the different schedules:
- Virginia schedule I drug offenses: Possession is a felony punishable by imprisonment from one to 10 years and fines up to $2,500.
- Virginia schedule II drug offenses: Possession is a felony and the punishment is the same as for a schedule I offense.
- Virginia schedule III drug offenses: Possession is a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine up to $2,500.
- Virginia schedule IV drug offenses: Possession is a class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and fines up to $1,000.
- Virginia schedule V drug offenses: Possession is a class 3 misdemeanor, and the penalty is a maximum fine of $500.
- Virginia schedule VI drug offenses: Possession substance in this schedule is a class 4 misdemeanor, and the penalty is a fine up to $250.
Penalties for possession with intent to sell a drug in schedule I or II is a felony that could result in a prison sentence of up to 40 years. Fines up to $500,000 could also be imposed.
Virginia Marijuana Laws
Efforts to legalize marijuana possession in the commonwealth have so far been unsuccessful. Marijuana possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and fines up to $500 for a first offense provided amount of marijuana is less than half an ounce. The jail sentence can increase to a year and the fines to $2,500 for a second offense. Someone arrested for possession of more than half an ounce of marijuana can be charged with a felony.
Confusion exists over the legality of synthetic marijuana. Although it was once legal, Virginia synthetic marijuana laws have been enacted to make it illegal. The Virginia spice laws banned chemical compounds used in the production of synthetic marijuana. A skilled criminal defense attorney knows that a successful prosecution hinges on the results of a laboratory analysis showing the compound found in a person's possession at the time of arrest to be among the banned substances.
Drug Laws and Virginia Vehicle Search Rules
Searches by police accompany most arrests for violating the drug laws. Evidence seized becomes the basis for prosecution of the offender. An attorney defending someone charged with drug possession or other drug crime frequently looks for ways to challenge the search conducted by police.
An crucial factor in the ability of police to conduct lawful searches is the existence of probable cause to believe evidence of a crime will be found in the place or on the person being searched. A Virginia vehicle search could begin with a car being stopped for a traffic violation and the police officer detecting the smell of marijuana coming from inside the vehicle as he or she approaches it. The smell could be enough to create probable cause for a search of the vehicle.
Hampton Roads Criminal Defense Attorneys
Whether someone is charged with a violation of Virginia marijuana laws or the more serious charge of possession with intent to distribute, the penalties associated with a conviction require representation by criminal defense attorneys who know the laws and have the experience to handle these difficult cases. The Hampton Roads attorneys at The Law Offices of John W. Lee, P.C., have more than 70 years of combined legal experience. Find out more about what they can do by calling (757) 896-0868 to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation.