A Virginian’s guide to legally grow marijuana at home starting July 1

Cannabis in the Commonwealth

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Starting July 1, Virginians will be able to legally grow up to four marijuana plants per household.

But there’s a catch. There’s no legal way to buy the seeds.

The gray area is a product of the accelerated timeline proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam’s office at the end of a lengthy legislative process.

At the time, lawmakers were under pressure to move up the legalization of simple possession to this summer. To win over critics, supporters were looking for a way to allow the public to safely obtain marijuana before recreational sales go live, something that’s not expected to happen until 2024.

As the Commonwealth enters new territory, many Virginians are wondering how to get started. Amid confusion, law enforcement and landlords are warning people to proceed with caution.

“Everything you need…except the seeds”

Happy Trees Agricultural Supply in Richmond is stocking up on lights, soil and nutrients to help Virginians start growing their own marijuana.

“We have everything you need, except the seeds, to grow your four plants,” said Happy Trees Co-Founder Josiah Ickes. “We’re expecting a huge boom in sales.”

“You can start for as little as $150 bucks or you can get weird with it and spend as much as you want,” said Co-Founder Christopher Haynie.

The continued ban on the sale and purchase of seeds came as a surprise to the store. They initially advertised plans to start offering them on July 1 with lawn signs before realizing it wouldn’t be allowed.

“It’s very frustrating that we don’t have a direct legal path to acquiring seeds,” Ickes said. “That is going to lead people down the road of finding seeds that are not legal and there may not be a safe way to do that.”

According to Jenn Michelle Pedini, the executive director of Virginia NORML, adults can gift seeds and other marijuana products to each other in certain circumstances, as long as no money changes hands. 

Due to the federal prohibition on pot, Pedini said it’s illegal to have seeds mailed to you and to cross state lines after purchasing them elsewhere.

In the 2022 session, Pedini wants lawmakers to create a legal avenue at the state level.

“The most immediate option for retail sales is to do so through the existing medical operators. This is what most states that have enacted adult use legalization do,” Pedini said.  “Virginia still has a chance to go down that path but that wasn’t something that was enacted this year.”

House Democratic Leader Charniele Herring, who sponsored the bill, said she supported moving forward with that option in 2021 but she said the idea was shot down by others in her party.

“There was no appetite from some to allow dispensaries to do that because the rationale is they didn’t want them to have a leg up on the business of recreational marijuana,” Herring said. “Honestly, I lost on that one.”

Tamara Netzel, a medical marijuana patient and the founder of Cruel Consequences, said trying to navigate the new law has been a challenge.

Netzel started using cannabis after her prescribed medication for Multiple Sclerosis made her liver go into failure. For months after that, she suffered from chronic pain and became depressed. 

“I’m the last person you would’ve thought would’ve tried cannabis but I was desperate.” Netzel said. “It was a choice I had to make and at that time I was like, I don’t want to break the law so I sought out people who wanted to change the law.”

Now, the law has changed and Netzel is among those hoping to grow at home as a cheaper alternative. Currently, she said she pays about $800 per month to use cannabis for her condition, not including the cost of periodically renewing her medical card recommendation. 

“I’m going to give it a try but I am afraid of messing up because the law is so complicated,” Netzel said.

“People have to read the fine print”

Chesterfield Police Chief Jeffrey Katz, who was speaking on behalf of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said there are several regulations people need to follow to stay out of trouble.

Adults ages 21 and older are allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants per household, not per person.

Katz said, to be in compliance, they needs to be out of public view and out of reach of children. Plus, each plant needs to be labelled with the owners name, state identification number and a disclaimer that they are for personal use only.

“People have to read the fine print. We’re going to do our best to educate people but we’re not going to not enforce the law,” Katz said.

The Virginia Apartment Management Association is warning renters to proceed with caution. VAMA Executive Director Patrick McCloud said some leases have language banning substances considered illegal under state and federal law. He said that could cause problems since Congress has yet to address marijuana prohibition nationally. McCloud said tenants should check with management before getting started with home cultivation.

While he can’t speak for all departments, Katz said, in Chesterfield, police are not going to be asking where people got their seeds.

Katz said, in general, enforcement of home cultivation regulations will likely stem from complaints.

“I can tell you with absolute certainty that we are not going to create a task force to address homegrown marijuana plants. That’s not in the best interest of public safety or our community,” Katz said.   

Another concern for Katz is preventing a boom in illegal sales while people are in the process of growing, since recreational stores can’t open yet.

“Those dynamics have created essentially a vacuum. It will drive people who wish to possess marijuana to street level drug dealers,” Katz said.

How to get from seed to smoke

Cody Anderson, a cannabis cultivation coach, said growing at home is a safer alternative for those concerned about toxins in black market products.

Anderson said it typically takes about six months to get from seed to smoke. He said first-time growers should consider taking a class to avoid trial and error.

While Virginians can legally grow outdoors if they follow state regulations, Anderson recommends growing indoors.

“You have to have control over heat and humidity, especially in Virginia,” Anderson said. “If you’re comfortable in an environment as a human, the plants are going to be comfortable as well.” 

Anderson said there are also quality considerations that make indoor growth more desirable for beginners.

“You have to be careful when you’re ingesting it to make sure it doesn’t have mold on it. That can make you really sick,” Anderson said. 

Anderson cautioned that the power needed to grow indoors is significant and potentially a fire hazard if not done properly. 

“It can burn down houses and apartment buildings, between the lights and dehumidifiers needed to run all of this, it pulls a lot of power,” Anderson said. “That’s I think another reason the state of Virginia didn’t go huge. Four plants is plenty. It makes it so people can do it safely.”

Anderson said four plants, if grown properly, can produce a years-worth of marijuana.

“Depending on your grow style and how you’re growing, it’s not uncommon to get a pound a plant,” Anderson said. 

While Virginians are allowed to possess up to an ounce of marijuana in public, Anderson said lawmakers set no clear limits on how much pot can be kept in a private residence.

“Right now, you can have three plants and be in compliance and also have 300 pounds of marijuana in your house and, under Virginia law, you’re solid,” Katz said.

That’s an area the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) has asked lawmakers to clarify in the future.

“I think it’s natural with legislation, especially big changes, to have to come back and fix things,” said Herring. “Again, it’s a breathing, living document and if there are changes that are needed, we will make those changes.”

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