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Arrested for First-Time Possession of Marijuana in Virginia? Know Your Options

On Behalf of | Apr 19, 2019 | Criminal Law

Despite changing attitudes across the nation, possession of marijuana remains a serious offense in Virginia. Under Virginia law, you cannot knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana, with a few exceptions.

A conviction for marijuana possession is a misdemeanor and may result in up to a 30-day jail sentence and a $500 fine. Even worse, subsequent convictions for possession of marijuana become a Class 1 misdemeanor, which can result in a more severe punishment: up to 12 months in jail, a fine of up to $2,500, or both. Notably, criminal charges relating to the sale, production, or distribution of marijuana carry much higher penalties—even if you are a first-time offender.

Below, Fishwick & Associates’ criminal defense team discusses a state program that helps first-time marijuana possession offenders avoid a criminal record, jail time, and other penalties.

First-Time Offenders May Qualify for Probation and Deferred Sentencing

Thankfully, Virginia lawmakers recognized the harshness of the consequences for simple possession of marijuana and enacted legislation for certain first-time offenders. If you qualify for the first-time offender program and complete the terms of your probation, the court will dismiss your charges—helping you avoid a criminal record, a conviction, and other life-changing penalties.

Who Is Eligible for Probation After a First-Time Drug Charge in Virginia?

If you’re facing charges for the first-time possession of marijuana, you may be able to avoid a traditional conviction and sentence. However, there are some requirements you must meet to be eligible under Virginia law.

This Must be Your First Drug Charge

If you’ve already been convicted of a state or federal drug charge, relating to marijuana, narcotics, stimulants, or any other illicit substance, you cannot take advantage of Virginia’s first-time offender program.

The Judge Typically Must Agree to a Deferred Sentence and Probation

Once you plead guilty or receive a guilty verdict for marijuana possession, the court can choose to place you on probation. However, the judge has broad discretion over this decision and will consider the circumstances surrounding your arrest and conviction. You are not guaranteed probation and a deferred sentence.

However, there is one exception to this rule. If you enter a plea deal that references the first-time offender program, the judge must enforce the plea as written, and delay sentencing.

Because the judge has significant leeway over Virginia’s first-time offender program for marijuana possession, you should always consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer before you plead guilty or no contest to drug charges.

You Could Avoid Losing Your Driver’s License

Before 2017, everyone who entered the first-time offender program for marijuana possession lost their driver’s license for six months. Thankfully, the rules have changed.

Today, the only way you will lose your license is if the court decides to include license suspension as a condition of your probation or the offense was committed while you were driving.

You Must Successfully Complete Probation to Avoid a Criminal Record and Sentencing

If the court places you on probation, you must obey the attached terms and conditions. First-time drug offenders on court-ordered probation typically must:

  • Undergo a substance abuse assessment.
  • Enter and complete an approved treatment or education program, based on the results of their substance abuse assessment.
  • Remain drug and alcohol-free during the probation period and submit to drug and alcohol tests as the court deems fit.
  • Make a “reasonable effort” to find a job, if unemployed.
  • Complete between 24 and 50 hours of community service.

Based on your situation, the judge may also impose other probation requirements.

Once you’re on probation, you’ll need to communicate regularly with your probation officer and carefully follow these terms and conditions. A single probation violation for using drugs or avoiding your community service can have catastrophic results.

If you violate the terms and conditions of probation, the court may declare you guilty and sentence you to jail time and fines. But, if you successfully fulfill the terms and conditions of probation, the court must discharge you and dismiss the proceedings. After the process is over, it is as if you did nothing at all.

However, there is one important limitation. The judge’s dismissal is a conviction for the purposes of applying Virginia Code § 18.2-251 in future proceedings. That means you can only have a possession charge dismissed once under this program.

Facing First-Time Marijuana Charges in Virginia? Contact Fishwick & Associates

If you’ve been charged with first-time marijuana possession, you need an experienced Virginia attorney to help you avoid sentencing. At Fishwick & Associates, we’re proud to support people facing drug convictions take advantage of the law to get their life back on track. Give us a call at 540-345-5890 or fill out our online contact form today.


Calvillo v. Commonwealth, 19 Va. App. 433 (1994).

Montalvo v. Commonwealth, 27 Va. App. 95 (1998).

Virginia Code § 18.2-11

Virginia Code § 18.2-250

Virginia Code § 18.2-250.1

Virginia Code § 18.2-251

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.