Social attitudes about marijuana have shifted drastically in the last decade. While admitting to marijuana use was once a social taboo, these days it's become far more common. As more states move to legalize the drug for medical and recreational use, many people, especially young people, are more open about their use. That can prove to be a serious mistake.
Even if first marijuana possession offenses in Virginia seem to only carry a slap on the wrist, the truth is much more complicated. Anyone accused of a marijuana-related crime in Virginia needs to take the potential consequences of that charge seriously, especially if he or she has enrolled in college or hopes to attend college in the future.
Jail time, fines and criminal consequences
The first and most obvious issue with a marijuana conviction is the criminal consequence it carries. Depending on the charge you face, whether you have a previous charge on record and if the marijuana was in its natural state or an extract, you could face felony charges that carry serious jail time, as well as significant fines.
For example, possession of less than a half ounce carries up to 30 days in a jail and a fine of up to $500 for a first offense. A second charge could result in up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500. Possession of marijuana extracts, even a tiny amount, could result in between one and ten years in jail, as well as a fine of up to $2,500.
A criminal record that haunts you for life
If you only ever face one misdemeanor charge, you may have the opportunity to have your record expunged or sealed in the future. However, if you end up facing charges again, that criminal record will haunt you for life. The same is true of any felony charges. Those will likely stay on your record forever, even if the state later changes its policy on marijuana.
That criminal record will make it much harder to secure a good job. It can also lock you out of rental housing and make it harder to get accepted into a college.
Drug convictions block your ability to receive federal student aid
Even if you're only accused of having the leftovers of a single joint in your pocket, that could kill your dream of ever going to college. The federal government has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drug convictions and federal student aid, including grants, scholarships, subsidized loans and even work-study programs.
You have to include any marijuana conviction or guilty plea on your record when you fill out your Federal Application for Student Aid. Answering "yes" will keep you from getting federal funds and may preclude you from qualifying for any private scholarships as well.