Marijuana Legalization and Potential Risks

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Information compiled by Olivia Spencer, NRVCS Intern

Possession and use of marijuana has been legalized in the Commonwealth of Virginia as of July 1, 2021. To clarify, this applies to individuals age 21 or older.

What is now legal:

Adults older than 21 will be allowed to have personal possession of no more than one ounce of marijuana. Usage will be allowed on private residences. Those older than 21 will also be allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants per household.

What remains illegal after July 1:

Possession of more than one ounce will remain illegal. Possessing more than one ounce, but less than one pound will be subject to a fine of $25 and those possessing more than a pound will be subject to a felony charge.

It will still be illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to possess, consume, or purchase marijuana – or attempting to do any of these things.

Selling or attempting to sell marijuana will also remain illegal. Businesses that do not have a permit to sell will also not be allowed to sell or distribute.

Marijuana usage when driving, as a passenger, or when controlling a motor vehicle will remain illegal, as will any usage on school properties.

Medicinal Cannabis:

To purchase cannabis for medicinal use there are two requirements: 1.) You must have a written, unexpired note from a board-registered practitioner; and 2.) You must have an active patient registration with the Board Of Pharmacy.

Slang/terms used for Marijuana:

(not a complete list)

With legalization of adult use of marijuana now in place, it is important to consider the potential risks associated with marijuana usage.

Risks of Marijuana Usage:

  • Respiratory issues
  • Increased chance of lung cancer and heart attack
  • Issues of child development during and after pregnancy
    Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome which is issues with nausea, vomiting, and dehydration
  • Abnormal brain shape, and decreased volume
  • Cognitive functioning decrease

Marijuana and its effect on brain development:

Marijuana is a drug that contains hundreds of chemicals, including THC – which is known to have mind-altering effects that can lead to changes in overall health. Recently researchers have been able to determine that the amount of THC has been on a steady climb for the past few decades. The more THC, the more effect marijuana has on the brain. So, this drug has gradually become more and more dangerous over the years.

While marijuana usage has grown exponentially in recent years among all demographics, the age group that has been most affected are teens and young adults (ages 18-25). Using marijuana in this age range is very concerning, this is when the brain is experiencing a lot of developmental changes and growth. Now this legalization is meant for those twenty-one and over but that is not going to prevent younger individuals from also getting their hands on it. Those older than twenty -one is still at risk of brain development and growth issues as your brain is not fully developed until you are twenty-five years old.

Marijuana usage is known to affect the development and growth of a brain. Longer term usage and starting age does affect how damaged the brain is/ will become.  In short term usage functions such as attention, reaction time, decision making, learning, and memory can be affected. Those effects can last while the marijuana is still in your system which can be anywhere from days to weeks depending on the amount and frequency of use. Not only is the brain affected by marijuana usage but so is the endocannabinoid system, this is the physiological system that responds to THC. Stress, emotion, cognition, and neurodevelopment are maintained, at least in part, by this system. Structural and functional abnormalities have been found in adolescents who have used marijuana shortly after the first use and can remain true up to 60 days after last use.

Those who have used marijuana have change in shape, volume, and density of the brain. The amygdala is known to be greatly affected by using marijuana. The amygdala has a major role in memory, emotion, and decision-making. This portion of the brain being affected can lead to many emotional and mental struggles.

Marijuana Risks:

Adolescent and young adult brains are still growing and developing and any foreign substance, including marijuana can hinder the proper development.

  • Marijuana usage can lead to an impacted function of memory, learning, decision-making, and emotion control.
  • Depression, anxiety, psychosis, and suicidal thoughts have been widely connected to Marijuana usage as the amygdala is greatly affected.
  • Marijuana affects reaction time resulting in hindered coordination, and movement.
  • Driving while under the influence is also dangerous. Reaction time, attention, and coordination are greatly affected by this drug and can result in hazardous driving.

Marijuana Usage and its Impact on Driving:

Marijuana and Alcohol are the top two substances that poorly impact driving. Marijuana usage results in decreased coordination, reaction time, and attention, as mentioned before, which can result in some very dangerous driving.

It is difficult to determine if marijuana is the cause of many accidents because it is usually paired with alcohol and as soon as that is found in someone’s system it is enough for a charge and looking for marijuana is typically unnecessary at that point. Marijuana is still known as the number two most common cause of impaired driving.

When is comes to driving and using marijuana, do not do it. Those under the influence of marijuana are known to lane-weave, under use brakes, forget rules of the road, and easily get distracted when driving.

Ways to prevent use:

Provide an open line of communication with your children so questions may be asked, and risks may be talked about.

Do not use the substance around your children, limited exposure helps with prevention.

Be open to helping your children (or whomever) stop usage if they ask for help. Be non-judgmental.

Resources for help:


Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889, or use SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator 


Call 540-961-8400

National Help Line for Substance Abuse
(800) 262-2463

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