Public health impacts of marijuana legalization in Virginia

As of July 1, 2021, marijuana is legal for adults ages 21+ in Virginia. Marijuana is the most commonly used drug that is not fully legal across the US. Evidence shows that in other states across the US, marijuana legalization has a positive correlation with both public safety and racial and economic justice. Historically, Black and Brown people are incarcerated at much higher rates for marijuana possession than their White counterparts, despite possessing marijuana at similar rates. Marijuana legalization has the potential to reduce incarceration rates in Black and Brown communities; reduce the whole-family trauma and instability that often results from incarceration; and create an opportunity for police departments to refocus their efforts on preventing violent crime, community policing, and practices that lead to community healing, not community fragmentation.

What is actually legal now? 

It is important to understand that marijuana is now legal in Virginia only in certain contexts and amounts. You can read the full guidelines at Here’s an overview of what you need to know:

  • Marijuana possession is legal only for adults aged 21 and older. It is still illegal for anyone under 21 to possess or use marijuana.
  • Adults 21+ can possess up to one ounce of marijuana legally. Possessing more than one ounce is illegal and can result in a civil penalty fine. Possessing more than a pound is a felony.
  • Adults can use marijuana in private residences, but the owner of a private residence can restrict marijuana use on their property.
  • Adults can have up to four marijuana plants per household.
  • Adults can share marijuana with each other but cannot sell it or trade it for another good or service.
  • Existing safety measures will remain in place, like prohibiting the use of marijuana while driving or riding in a vehicle or on school grounds.
  • Consuming marijuana or offering it to another person in a public place is still illegal.

If you plan to use marijuana or spend time with people who do, it’s important to understand the laws as well as any policies your employer or landlord may have regarding marijuana use. For helpful real-life tips on how to follow the law when possessing or using marijuana, check out the ACLU of Virginia’s quick guide to legal marijuana use.


What do we know about marijuana safety? 

While marijuana is widely used both recreationally and medicinally, we don’t have extensive research on its effects—hopefully, this will change as more states choose to legalize marijuana. However, we do know some side effects that are important to consider:

  • Smoking marijuana can lead to a greater risk of bronchitis, cough, and phlegm production.
  • Smoking marijuana can be carcinogenic (cancer-causing—like cigarettes)
  • Marijuana raises your heart rate. Smoking marijuana has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Heavy use may cause difficulty w/ attention, short-term memory, and anxiety & other mood changes.
  • Heavy marijuana use in a person’s early 20s or teenage years may affect cognitive development long-term given that the brain is not fully formed at this age.
  • Marijuana can be addictive. About 1 in 10 users will become addicted, including 1 in 6 people who begin smoking before adulthood.
  • Second-hand marijuana smoke is a concern for bystanders’ health given that it is carcinogenic and increases the risk of a cough and other respiratory issues.
  • There have been no reported cases of marijuana overdose in Virginia, so overdose is not a known risk.

For adults ages 21+ who choose to use marijuana, there are some things you can do to practice safer marijuana use:

  • Tell your primary care provider about your marijuana use or if you’re interested in starting use for recreational or medicinal purposes.
  • Similar to alcohol and other substances, it’s recommended to avoid using marijuana while you are pregnant.
  • Using marijuana can impair your reaction time and judgment. Do not use marijuana and drive.
  • Avoid exposing others -particularly children- to secondhand smoke.
  • For more information on the health impacts of marijuana use, please visit the CDC’s marijuana info page.