Ralph Rescues Reefer

By Don Rippert

Warm up the bongs. Adults in Virginia will be able to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use starting July 1. The bill originally passed by the General Assembly would have delayed that date until July 1, 2024. However, Governor Ralph Northam amended the bill and, after some haggling, the General Assembly accepted the amended bill. Unsurprisingly, the bill that ultimately passed got more than a little frayed in the back and forth between the General Assembly and the Governor.

Spontaneous generation. The biggest quirk of Virginia’s new marijuana law is that it will be legal to possess marijuana this summer but not legal to buy pot for another three years. So … where will the marijuana come from? The Virginia law envisions adults “gifting” each other up to an ounce of marijuana. So … where will the “gifted” marijuana come from? The law allows Virginians to grow up to four plants. So … where will the marijuana seeds come from? Isn’t buying seeds a form of buying marijuana? In reality, the law that passed has more than a little bit of “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” in it. Virginians will buy marijuana from whomever is selling it now in the Old Dominion. The transaction is illegal but as soon as you get a few steps away from the pusher man you’re in the clear. One can imagine the conversation between police and someone with a bag of marijuana. “Where did you get that marijuana?”  “I found it.”

Weights and measures. The other kink in the law is the dichotomy between legally possessing an ounce of marijuana and legally growing up to four plants. Four plants will yield a lot more than an ounce. In the interests of journalism I have researched this matter.

As it turns out the yield of a single marijuana plant depends on a number of factors. Indoors vs. outdoors? In soil or hydroponically? What strength grow lights? What strain of marijuana plant?

A single plant grown indoors by an experienced grower using a 1000-watt light will yield up to 1000 grams of cannabis. For those who are metric system challenged, that’s 35 ounces or 2.1 pounds. From one plant!

One problem for the hypothetical green-thumbed Virginia grower — the penalty for an adult possessing over a pound of marijuana in the new law is one to 10 years in prison along with a fine of up to $250,000. Even a plant killer could probably get more than four ounces per plant and thereby become a possible felon.

Banter. The Virginia Mercury reported on some of the back-and-forth on the four-plants-versus-an-ounce controversy. Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, asks, “Are we not creating a criminal act by growing one plant?” For the record, there is no truth that Sen. Stanley was seen sipping clear liquid from a Mason jar labeled “Franklin County’s Finest” as he made that comment. Just ask Tickle.

Also, according to the Virginia Mercury, “Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said he didn’t have a good answer, but doubted many would-be cultivators would successfully grow more than an ounce.” Obviously, while Sen Ebbin represents Alexandria he didn’t grow up there.

The executive director of Virginia NORML opined that “the language limiting possession to one ounce applies only to amounts held on someone’s person or in public.” Unless, of course, you are Black, in which case you’ll be personally liable for any and all marijuana found in your neighborhood. Just ask the police chief from Windsor, Va.

Virginia’s ACLU leader said, “So, if you are growing in your home and complying with the provisions governing home grow, and you are not out in public, then I think the one-ounce limit doesn’t apply to what you have in your home.” Fascinating. But is it four plants at a time or four plants ever? Anyone replanting the plants and keeping the harvest at home could eventually build up quite a stash to “gift” to friends along with the annual Christmas cards.

Bottom line. I am personally glad that Northam sent the bill back to accelerate the date of legalization. The legislation has quite a few quirks but the days of busting people for possession a small amount of a dried plant in Virginia are over. I don’t understand the three-and-a-half years to get the dispensaries open. It took 20 months from referendum to legal sales in Nevada. Meanwhile, D.C.’s dispensaries are scheduled to open On Oct 1, 2022. Northam may want to make a play for some of Biden’s infrastructure loot to shore up the bridges going from D.C. to Virginia ahead of that date.