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Possession of Marijuana: First Offense

            Possession of marijuana is a serious offense in Virginia. Under Virginia Code § 18.2-250.1, it is unlawful for any person to “knowingly” possess marijuana. Generally, any person convicted of a first offense for possession of marijuana (less than one-half ounce) is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to confinement in jail for up to thirty (30) days and a fine of up to $500. Additionally, conviction under this statute requires asuspension of an individual’s license to drive a motor vehicle for six months. See Virginia Code §18.2-259.1. However, an individual whose license is suspended may petition the court for a restricted license to drive to work, school, church and medical appointments.

             Under Virginia Code § 18.2-251, an individual who has not previously received a drug-related conviction (a “first offender”) may, in the discretion of the court, receive a deferred disposition and dismissal of the charge upon completion of the statutory and court-ordered conditions of probation. The statute requires that an individual seeking a deferred disposition for dismissal undergo a substance abuse assessment (and treatment if the court deems it necessary). Further, such individual must pay all or part of his or her court costs and fines, as well as the costs associated with enrollment in an approved substance abuse program. During his or her probationary period, an individual must abstain from drug and alcohol use and is subject to random drug and alcohol screening to ensure compliance. Finally, the statute requires that an individual complete at least 24 hours of community service. Failure to comply with these terms will result in a finding of guilt and imposition of the aforementioned penalties.

Although satisfactory completion of the conditions of probation under the first offender program will result in dismissal of an individual’s possession charge, the offense remains a conviction for subsequent drug-related offenses. Therefore, if an individual, who previously received a dismissal of a possession of marijuana charge under the first offender statute, subsequently violates the possession statute, such subsequent offense will constitute a second offense for the purposes of adjudication and sentencing. Further, an expungement is not permissible when an individual receives a dismissal of the possession charge under the first offender program. Please note that marijuana cases (and other drug-related cases) often involve complex search and seizure defenses, as well as negotiation skills that generally require an experienced attorney.

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