VIRGINIA (FOX 5 DC) - Did you know in two weeks marijuana laws in Virginia will change? It will be legal for adults to smoke some and grow some.
Starting July 1st, people in Virginia can smoke marijuana in the privacy of their home, but it will still be illegal to do that in a public space. It is also still banned on school property and in vehicles.
Chief Maggie DeBoard, President of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, told Fox 5’s Sierra Fox that law enforcement agencies are left scrambling, trying to figure out the best way to approach this and train their officers so they understand what the new laws are, and more importantly – how to approach from a public safety standpoint.
"We’re trying to navigate that and figure out what to do to prepare so our officers know what they can and can’t do," said DeBoard.
She believes the biggest challenge for officers will be how to handle impaired drivers.
"If you look at jurisdictions or state’s around the country that have adopted the legalization of marijuana, what is clear from those states, from the research that has been done, is that impaired driving has gone up 300% to 400% in some of those jurisdictions as far as highway fatalities and accidents," said DeBoard. "We are going to see rises in fatalities and accidents."
Chief Maggie DeBoard said law enforcement agencies are now left scrambling on how to approach the legalization of marijuana from a public safety standpoint. Police departments are working to train their officers so they understand the law, know what they can and can’t do, and learn how identify impaired drivers on the road.
Attorney Eric Postow with Parlatore Law Group wants to make sure people are aware it will still be illegal for a driver or passenger to consume marijuana in a car.
"Safest thing while transporting is to keep it in a sealed container out of that passenger area, probably in your trunk or somewhere well out of reach of the driver or passenger and out of sight completely," said Postow.
Starting July 1, adults who are 21 and up will be allowed to have up to an ounce of cannabis legally. That is about the weight of a pencil. Anyone caught with more than an ounce could face up to a $25 charge. Users will also be allowed to grow up to four plants per home.
Chief DeBoard said law enforcement agencies are still looking at their procedures and protocols to see if they will send officers out when a neighbor complains about the smell of marijuana at a residence.
"Most agencies are probably going to eliminate calls to go to residences where there are no enforcement options for the officers," said DeBoard. "What we don’t want to do is put officers in a bad situation where they have no ability to enforce the situation."
She adds people need to understand the dangers they are dealing with before consuming marijuana if they have not done so before. DeBoard also has this message: "If you get behind the wheel, you jeopardize the life of everyone on the highway," said DeBoard.
"Be reasonable with your consumption. You’ve been given a privilege so I think the most important thing now is to honor that privilege," said Postow.
Virginia is not an open marijuana market so people will need to be careful. When the law goes into effect, it will still be illegal to buy and sell marijuana until January 1st 2024. That is when retail sales are expected to begin.