Virginia became the first state in the South to open its doors to recreational marijuana this year thanks to Gov. Ralph Northam’s amendments that pushed the law to take effect July 1, three years ahead of schedule.
This means that Virginia residents have been allowed to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants per household since the beginning of July. State regulators are still intending to enact provisions to license commercial cannabis manufacturing and sales by July 1, 2024.
Has anything really changed yet?
Though one might logically presume that allowing cannabis possession would make a big difference in the Dominion State, according to some reports, not much has changed. Why? Apparently, Virginians have been enjoying the plant for a long time, regardless of its legal status, or previous lack thereof.
Nevertheless, things are starting to get a bit complicated at least when it comes to the relationship between housing managers, tenants and among neighbors, reports WTVR.
The new law is clear – it does not forbid property owners from setting up their own rules regarding public cannabis consumption in their residential rental buildings.
Two residents at a West Broad Street apartment, Jami Ramos and James Sayen, spoke with WTVR about what has changed with Virginia’s new cannabis law and what has not. According to Ramos and Sayen, the smell of cannabis in their building is not new nor did it just become apparent as of July 1. On the contrary, they’ve noticed it since they moved into the building.
“We’ve kind of always smelled it. People do it in the garage all the time,” Ra mos and Sayen said. “Sometimes we’d smell it in the hallway. I don’t think anything’s changed for us except I guess it’s legal now, so people are going to be more open about it.”
To Smoke Or Not To Smoke…It’s Up To The Property Owner
While Ramos and Sayen say they don’t have a problem with their neighbors enjoying a little pot-smoking since the aroma does not reach their unit, they assume their neighbors are unaware of the fact that the rental lease prohibits all smoking on the premises.
“No tobacco, no nothing. No smoking of any kind and it still happens,” they said.
Similar no-smoking rules are usually applied in large multi-family residential buildings.
“There are many properties out there right now that have lease agreements where the residents agree not to smoke, and it is a smoke-free community,” said Patrick McCloud, CEO of the Virginia Apartment Management Association.
McCloud further explained that the rules are set to protect the entire community and not just the right of some tenants, which is why, in spite of the law, residents must check with their property management regarding what is allowed in order not to violate their lease.
More importantly, residents need not forget that under federal law, cannabis is still illegal.
“Most agreements do still have clauses where any violation of federal law could be means for eviction,” said Kelly Cournoyer, an associate attorney with Toscano Law Group. “Whenever there’s a conflict between state and federal law, federal law is going to win.”
Marijuana Martyr Says This Is ‘An Opportunity To Do Something Right’
In spite of all of this, the importance of Virginia’s new cannabis law cannot be diminished. One example clearly illustrates why.
Roger T. Davis, who became known as the “marijuana martyr” after he was sentenced to 40 years in prison for selling weed in 1973, is finally, at the age of 76, allowed to legally smoke as much cannabis as he wants. Davis’s sentence was viewed as harsh by most in the legal community, with some even calling it cruel and unusual punishment. Many advocates argued that he “was specifically targeted because he was married to a white woman and had a reputation as a hippie and provocateur,” writes Merry Jane.
Davis’s case even reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the sentence was appropriate until, in 1982, former Virginia Gov. Charles Robb finally confirmed the injustice of the long sentence and reduced it to 20 years. While on parole, Davis was arrested again in the 1990s for selling cocaine, and in 1993 he was sentenced to another 20 years.
When he finally served “all his dues,” Davis decided to stop selling drugs and got into the construction business. He also began writing and making art.
“I’ve lived through the system and learned a lot,” Davis told the Washington Post. “I learned a lot from the system’s mistakes. I learned a lot from my own mistakes.”
“Black people have been done wrong for so long,” he added. “This is an opportunity to do something right.”
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