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Progress still needed in Virginia's marijuana laws, advocates from both sides say

As of now, simple possession and home cultivation are legal in the Commonwealth.

NORFOLK, Va. — A big step Thursday is by no means the last step in the larger story of marijuana legalization. 

“Today is legalization, but it doesn’t help anyone in my project," said Tamara Netzel, who tells stories through her photography project "Cruel Consequences: Portraits of Misguided Law."

The photographs tell the stories of the struggles some Virginians face living with marijuana charges on their criminal records. Virginia’s new marijuana laws do not include expungement of all charges, meaning Thursday is just another weekday void of fanfare for many Virginians. 

Netzel -- an advocate for marijuana legalization and who is on the Board of Directors for Virginia NORML -- admits that the expungement of prior marijuana charges is an important but absent part of July 1's rollout date.  

"People have to live marginalized lives after they’ve settled with the state, paid their debts. They’re still marginalized by being barred from employment, housing," Netzel said. 

Viewers have inquired about what the legalization date means for past charges. According to previous 13News Now reporting, attorneys in Virginia say only some records will be sealed from the view of law enforcement, but not sealed through court systems.

RELATED: Legalized marijuana in Virginia: What happens to prior drug charges?

It’s only one of the question marks about the process moving forward.

“The most troubling issue of this would be community public health," Dr. Mary Crozier said Thursday, a former educator from East Carolina University and now-turned advocate on the opposite side of the conversation.

Dr. Crozier is a member of several community coalitions, Virginia Beach Youth and Community Action Team, Community Coalitions of Virginia, and Virginia Allies Evaluating Drug Legislation. She says there are still too many question marks about the drug for the coalitions she’s a part of to fully support its rollout, including a lack of FDA approval and the fact the drug is still considered illegal at the federal level. 

“Not approved by the American Medical Association and a plethora of other professional health organizations. We’re very concerned about the health and safety impact of this, we know that as a psychoactive substance, it can impair driving and other motor skills, impact on a developing fetus," Dr. Crozier said. 

She also raises the point that there's no numerical way to test for marijuana-based sobriety compared to alcohol. 

“We don’t have a formal sort of number for what dictates marijuana intoxication. The law clarifies you can’t carry it and consume it in certain places, but what going into work," Dr. Crozier said. 

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