Recreational Marijuana Soon to Be De-Facto Legal in Northern Virginia

Photo credit: Rip Dog Photography

by DJ Rippert

Elections have consequences. The recent presidential election along with the Georgia run-off election has secured Democratic control of Congress with no serious risk of presidential veto. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C., has tried for years to establish a recreational marijuana marketplace only to be thwarted by Republicans in Congress. Finally, in the 2020 session Virginia’s General Assembly passed legislation that made the possession of small amounts of marijuana punishable by a fine so low that it could hardly be compared to a parking ticket ($25). This combination of events will soon have Northern Virginians buying marijuana in D.C. and bringing the weed back to the Old Dominion to consume. D.C. will profit while Virginia gets nothing.

A bridge too close. While this sometimes gets lost on Bacon’s Rebellion, Northern Virginia is a suburb of Washington, D.C.  In fact, D.C. is a short and somewhat pleasant walk from Rosslyn (in Northern Virginia) over the Key Bridge. There’s a good reason that Dixie Liquor (interesting name) has operated in D.C. across from the Key Bridge since 1934. Over the years Dixie has provided many a Northern Virginian spirits at a price well below the ABC store gouging. One wonders how long it will take for the Dixie Dispensary to open nearby.

In addition to walking, Northern Virginians can drive, take the Metro or “Uber” from their homes into D.C. Many NoVa residents do just that for work, to see a show at the Kennedy Center, catch a Wizards, Nats or Capitals game or partake of the wide variety of “things to do” in our nation’s capital. Soon, legally buying marijuana will be added to the attractions Northern Virginians seek in Washington. What will stop them? The dispensaries in DC will be only too happy to sell to NoVa adults. There is no appetite among Northern Virginia jurisdictions for enforcement of the minimal marijuana possession laws that do exist. The next nearest state with legal recreational marijuana sales is Massachusetts. The die is cast. Let’s hope the bridges between NoVa and D.C. can handle the extra traffic.

Et tu, Maryland? If it’s easy to get to DC from NoVa it’s even more of cinch from Maryland. A few steps across Western Avenue will take a pedestrian from Chevy Chase, Md., into Washington, D.C. I’m willing to bet that D.C. dispensary licenses near the Maryland border will be almost as coveted as those close to the bridges leading into DC from Virginia. It won’t take long for Maryland legislators to smell the acrid smoke of lost taxes wafting from DC’s dispensaries. Maryland’s legislative session begins today and already has one legalization bill being put forth by the aptly named Jazz Lewis. When (not if) Maryland legalizes recreational use marijuana, more Virginians will have easy access to legal pot.

The Virginia Way strikes again. The legalized sale of recreational marijuana takes some doing. Laws have to be passed. Regulations have to be written. Growers and grow sites have to be found. Licenses to produce marijuana have to be issued. Dispensaries have to be established along with licenses for retail sales. Most states begin this process through the legalization of medical marijuana. Legalization of medical marijuana establishes a framework of growers and sellers that can be expanded to support recreational sales. Maryland and D.C. have established medical marijuana operations.  ven West Virginia has legalized medical marijuana, although that state has been slow to get the operation up and running. Virginia allows only the manufacture and sale of low-THC products like CBD oil. While state after state legalized medical marijuana our legislators stared out the windows of the state capitol at the statue of Harry Byrd while daydreaming of happier times in the past. Now that the inevitable and easy-to-predict dominos of legalization are falling all around us, we are well behind our neighboring states. Even if we act in this session of the General Assembly, years of tax revenue will be lost to other states and D.C. before Virginia gets recreational pot sales up and running.

A note to social conservatives. You lost this one. It’s over. But please note — This article does not delve into the theory, morality or wisdom of legalizing marijuana. It simply states the facts and makes obvious predictions like D.C. establishing a retail market for marijuana sales as soon as the feds allow. Equally obvious is the fact that lots of Virginians use marijuana today and many of those those Virginians are likely to go to D.C., Maryland or even West Virginia to buy their pot once those jurisdictions legalize recreational use and establish retail operations. No tax revenue will accrue to Virginia, it will all go to the neighboring jurisdictions. Meanwhile, Virginia’s stance will not dissuade anybody from using marijuana — for medical or recreational purposes. We are in a lose-lose position due to the intransigence of our state’s antique and moth-eaten politicians.