Marijuana Laws: the Interplay Between D.C.’S, Maryland’s, and Virginia’s Laws

The marijuana laws in this region can be tricky. In this blog, Misha Lopez tells you what you need to know about possessing marijuana in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

Judges gavel and marijuana

Drug laws change all the time – sometimes new drugs are outlawed; other times, existing drug penalties are revised or eliminated.  In the past few years, Colorado, along with Oregon and Washington, has led the charge to legalize recreational marijuana use.  Virginia, on the other hand, has not followed the trend of decriminalization.  As a result, it is important to know what the penalties are if you are travelling between these various areas and how the laws interact.

Maryland’s Marijuana Laws

Maryland’s marijuana laws call for the decriminalization of possession of marijuana to a certain extent.  In Maryland, if you possess 10 grams or less of marijuana, you can only be fined.  Further, possession of 10 grams to 50 pounds is only a misdemeanor.  However, it is possible that possessing very large quantities of marijuana will lead to possession with intent to distribute charges.  Any distribution charge is a felony in Maryland and can carry a variety of possible punishments, depending on the amounts involved, including a prison sentence.

Washington, D.C.’s Marijuana Laws

D.C.’s treatment of marijuana offenses is even more generous than Maryland’s, as possession of small amounts of marijuana is now legal.  The recent enactment of legalization allows all individuals 21 and older to possess 2 ounces (56 grams) or less of marijuana in D.C. without any penalty (fine or otherwise).

Possessing over two ounces is classified as a misdemeanor and carries up to six months’ incarceration and a $1,000.00 fine.  Further, unlike Maryland, distribution of 1 ounce or less of marijuana is also considered a civil violation and only carries a $25 fine.  Distribution for compensation in D.C. is still illegal, and it is illegal to consume marijuana in public or on federal land.

Virginia’s Marijuana Laws

In contrast to D.C. and Maryland, Virginia’s marijuana laws are much tougher on possessors and distributors of marijuana.  In Virginia, possessing less than half an ounce (14 grams) of marijuana is a misdemeanor that carries up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine for first offenders, and up to 1 year in jail and a $2,500 fine for second and subsequent offenses.  If you are found with over half an ounce, you will likely be charged with distribution, which is a felony.  Virginia felony punishments for distribution increase with the amount of marijuana recovered. In addition, if convicted, there is a mandatory six-month suspension of your driver’s license.

Applying Marijuana Laws between D.C., Maryland and Virginia

The variety of marijuana laws in effect can be confusing in this region. For example, what happens if you are a Maryland resident, but buy marijuana in D.C., and then travel to Virginia where you are stopped and charged with a possession offense?  For starters, you will not benefit from the more generous laws of Maryland or D.C.  Generally, you will be subjected to the laws of the place where the offense occurred. Thus, just because you acquired marijuana in a more liberal jurisdiction, does not mean the more liberal laws will apply to you.

The only exception is Virginia’s marijuana law regarding prescriptions for marijuana.  Medical marijuana has been around far longer than recent legalization trends for recreational marijuana use.  If you happen to have an out-of-state prescription for medical marijuana, you can rely on the prescription to possess marijuana within Virginia.  Furthermore, if charged with a possession offense, a legitimate prescription for certain purposes in effect at the time of the charge is an affirmative defense.

Marijuana laws are complicated, and will become more complicated as different states create different marijuana laws. 

Our Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Help If Needed

If you are charged with a possession offense, call a trusted criminal defense lawyer at Greenspun Shapiro PC to best assess your potential defenses and decide how to proceed. Driven by imagination and innovation, our office maintains a reputation for scrupulous and tenacious preparation, as well as effective legal advocacy. This means you can count on our skilled attorneys to aggressively defend your rights and help you successfully resolve your case. Contact our Fairfax office at (703) 352-0100 or by using the contact form.

We provide superior legal services to our clients throughout Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.

Mikhail N. Lopez
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Criminal Defense and General Civil Litigation Attorney
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