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Simple marijuana possession could end your college career

Laws around marijuana have become more lenient in many states over recent years. More than half of the states around the country have legalized adult recreational marijuana use or medical marijuana use for people with qualifying conditions. Virginia is not one of these states.

Despite growing evidence regarding potential medical, economic and social benefits associated with legalization, Virginia still criminalizes marijuana possession. Depending on the amount of marijuana present and the kind of marijuana, the penalties can be quite steep. Even worse, a guilty plea or conviction could put a sudden end to your college career.

How does Virginia penalize marijuana possession?

Those who get caught in possession of any amount of marijuana, even just the remnants of a single marijuana joint, could face criminal prosecution. For a first offense, those accused of possession of any amount, up to half an ounce, face a misdemeanor charge that carries up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $500.

Second or subsequent charges of possession of less than half an ounce can result in up to a year in jail and fine of up to $2,500. Possession of any amount from a half ounce or higher results in felony charges and potential intent to distribute charges. People caught with a scale, even if it's just to verify they are receiving the amount they pay for, could easily face intent to distribute charges.

How marijuana possession charges can impact your future

In some cases, you could avoid the most serious criminal penalties associated with the offense, like jail time, by agreeing to a plea deal. However, doing so will saddle you with a drug conviction that could haunt you for the rest of your life. Most people understand that a drug charge could make it more difficult to find a job in the future. It can also impact your ability to secure rental housing.

What's worse is that a drug conviction of any sort will likely preclude you from receiving any federal student aid for college. The application for federal student aid specifically asks about drug convictions. When you answer yes, you lose your ability to receive federal student loans and Pell grants. They even cut you off from work-study compensation programs.

If you aren't reliant on federal student aid for college, a drug conviction can still end your college career. If you receive an academic or athletic scholarship for school, there are generally codes of conduct that dictate the terms under which you can maintain your scholarship. Drug convictions or any criminal conviction can result in the loss of that financial aid. In some cases, the college could also require disciplinary action for a conviction, up to and potentially including rescinding your status as a student.

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