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The problem with legalizing pot in Virginia by July 1

July 1 simple possession of marijuana will be legal in Virginia (Credit: WSET).
July 1 simple possession of marijuana will be legal in Virginia (Credit: WSET).
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Governor Ralph Northam and his administration celebrated the day he signed the bill legalizing marijuana in Virginia.

"This is yet another example of Democrats, yes Democrats listening to Virginians and taking action on the will of the people," Northam said.

However, David Lewis isn't celebrating the new pot laws. He's been in recovery for more than three years and knows first-hand the dark side of marijuana.

"One night I was at a party," Lewis said. "Someone had just passed me a joint and I hit it. Almost immediately I felt different. It just didn't feel like a normal high from marijuana. I asked the guy what it was and he said it was laced with K -- Special K. Once that happened I really don't remember anything."

RELATED: Virginia health leaders worried how legal marijuana will impact youth

Lewis admits he probably should have been hospitalized that night.

Now that simple possession of marijuana will be legal in Virginia on July 1, some are concerned more that dangerous laced marijuana will end up in your hands. Especially since there won’t be a legal way to buy it yet.

You name it, top cops in our area say pot is already being laced with it and sold on the black market. Appomattox County Sheriff Donald Simpson and Lynchburg Police Chief Ryan Zuidema explained what they've dealt with.

"In the past we have seen marijuana laced with LSD, meth," Simpson said. "PCP, really dangerous drugs."

"We've seen something laced with cocaine," Zuidema said. "Sometimes they are dipped in embalming fluids. "

Sheriff Simpson and Chief Zuidema fear it will get worse as more people try to get high.

The new marijuana law in Virginia makes it legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. You can also grow up for four plants.

However, there aren't plans for regulated, retail sales of pot in Virginia until 2024.

RELATED: Marijuana soon to be legal in Va. but questions on where to purchase it remains

Without quality control, Simpson is concerned laced pot will be a potentially deadly problem.

"Why are we rushing this?" Simpson asked. "Why are we jumping out in front pushing this almost endorsement of marijuana when there's no method for people to buy it?"

"We don't want someone to say, 'Hey I'm just going to go to my local drug dealer and buy a bag of marijuana," Zuidema said.

Dealing drugs is still illegal. However, without a regulated marketplace, Zuidema thinks many will choose to buy marijuana from drug dealers.

"Folks who are involved in the drug trade here in Lynchburg are usually involved in guns and or violent crime," Zudiema said.

Addiction specialist Mark Bogia with Roads to Recovery shares that concern.

"I think anybody who buys drugs from a dealer, a person you really don't know well, is naive," Bogia said. You never know. He might know what he's getting."

Zuidema also feels lawmakers should have been more thoughtful about having a legal market when possession becomes legal.

"I think the general assembly, for whatever reason, took some action rather abruptly," Zuidema said.

RELATED: Lynchburg police chief calls for community help combating crime after several incidents

Even the group pushing to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth shares the same concerns. Jenn Michele Pedini is the executive director of Virginia NORML.

"Unfortunately what Virginia has failed to do with this legislation is follow the same pathway other states have taken when they've expanded to adult from medical use," Pedini said. "That's to allow sales to begin as early as possible through the already existing operators."

Since 2020 medical marijuana has been legal in Virginia. The state has four medical marijuana dispensaries. Virginia NORML wants retail sales to begin there and then expand. They hope lawmakers will discuss that option in the 2022 legislative session.

"NORML is already focused on expediting retail sales," Pedini said. "It's really critical for consumer and public safety."

When Governor Northam's office was asked why they pushed to legalize before there was a way to buy pot, a spokeswoman said, "More Black Virginians are likely to be stopped, arrested and convicted of marijuana use. While it will take time to set up the regulatory market, it was very important to the Governor that we end this unfair enforcement as soon as possible."

Lynchburg Commonwealth's Attorney Bethany Harrison said this set of laws just makes life easier on people who are breaking the law.

"It was very quick, knee jerk response," Harrison said. "First it was going to be over a period of years with thoughtful consideration. Instead our governor decided no we need to legalize simple possession now but not legalize dispensaries for 3 more years. Instead of having actual meaningful reform what we get at are absurd results that prevents law enforcement officers from doing their job which is to keep the public safe."

Northam's office also noted that Virginia is not alone in legalizing simple possession prior to legal sales. Colorado, Vermont, New Jersey and New York, earlier this year, made the same choice.

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