New Laws Take Effect July 1
For VPM News in Richmond, I’m Benjamin Dolle.
New laws take effect today in Virginia – most notably, the legalization of marijuana. Legal and justice reporter Whittney Evans has been following legislation passed during the 2021 General Assembly session. She is here to explain some of the changes.
Dolle: Whittney, let’s talk first about marijuana. Obviously, this is a huge shift for the state. Help us understand some of the details of this new law.
Evans: There’s quite a lot to talk about and even some unanswered questions. But starting today, adults 21 and older can have up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to 4 plants in their homes. You can only use it in your home -- that means you can’t consume marijuana when you’re on the road or in a public place. And landlords can ban marijuana on their properties, so, renters should pay attention to that stipulation.
Also, there are no legal sales in Virginia until a regulatory framework is set up in the next few years. Right now adults can only legally, quote “share it”.
Dolle: So how do Virginians access it if there are no legal sales?
Evans: Well, you can’t transport it across state lines. So, they’ll still have to get it the same way they've always gotten it. Whatever that may be.
One unanswered question is whether recreational marijuana use is still a violation of probation.
The ACLU says that’s unclear. So anyone with concerns should ask their probation officer.
Dolle: Let’s move on to some of the other new laws taking effect this week. There are some other criminal justice related changes, right?
Evans: Right, keeping with the probation discussion, there’s now a cap on the number of years you can spend in prison for probation violations. It’s a maximum of one year for a misdemeanor, and five years for a felony.
Dolle: What’s the reason behind this change?
Evans: Governor Ralph Northam said when he signed the bill that it’s expensive to keep sending people back to prison for violations that are often technical. And people of color are disproportionately cited for these kinds of violations.
Dolle: What about new firearms restrictions? I noticed Democrats have been talking up their new gun safety rules.
Evans: Domestic abusers are barred from buying firearms. School boards are now allowed to ban guns from school property. Guns are also outlawed on Capitol Square, state government buildings and polling places. This follows a slate of new gun restrictions Democrats passed in 2020 in response to the mass shooting in Virginia Beach.
Dolle: What are some other new laws that stand out to you, Whittney?
Evans: Yes, there are some big changes for the eviction protections that were put in place during the pandemic. The eviction ban is still in place for another month and tenants still have a two-week grace period for late payments. But landlords no longer have to apply for rent relief on their tenants behalf. And they no longer have to wait 45 days after applying for that relief to start the eviction process -- taking us back to pre-pandemic rules.
There’s a huge expansion of Virginia’s election laws. It's now easier to cast a ballot before election day.
On an entirely different note, you know those take-out cocktails some of us have enjoyed in the last year?
Dolle: I’m familiar.
Evans: Well we can now get our g and t’s to-go through 2022.
Dolle: Exciting news for some.
Evans: Also, starting today, it is illegal to release balloons outdoors. This is in line with plans to start phasing out sing-use plastics and polystyrene food containers – changes that are coming in the next few years.
Dolle: That’s about all of the time we have. Thanks for speaking with me, Whittney.
Evans: Thank you Ben.
Dolle: VPM will be keeping track of these new laws and more developments leading up to the Special Session on August 2nd. You can follow our coverage on air or on VPM.org/GeneralAssembly. You’re listening to VPM News.