The D.C. council yesterday passed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but so far there are no plans to change marijuana laws or enforcement in Arlington.
The D.C. bill, which is expected to be signed by Mayor Vincent Gray, would make the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine. Under the District’s current laws marijuana possession is a crime, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
In Virginia, state law makes marijuana possession a crime punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine for a first offense, and up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine for subsequent offenses. There are no proposals in the Virginia General Assembly this year to change that, and police in Arlington County say they have no plans to change the way they enforce the law.
The decriminalization of pot in the District ”will have no effect on our policies or procedures,” Arlington County Police Department spokesman Dustin Sternbeck tells ARLnow.com. ”We will continue to enforce all laws in the same manner we currently do.”
In other words, District residents who bring marijuana into Virginia shouldn’t expect any leniency from police, despite the fact that an infraction that could cost less than a parking ticket in D.C. is punishable by jail time in the Commonwealth.
In 2012, Del. David Englin (D), who represented part of Arlington, proposed studying whether Virginia ABC stores should sell marijuana. Englin’s measure failed in committee.
Editor’s Note: This new sponsored Q&A column is written by Mathew B. Tully of Tully Rinckey PLLC.
Q. One of my buddies was recently pulled over after having a few too many drinks — he lives 5 blocks from the bar and just made a bad call getting behind the wheel. He knew he was going to be over the limit — is it ever better to refuse a breathalyzer test than to take one when you know it will probably show you’re drunk?
A. Refusing a breathalyzer test may seem like a good idea if you’re facing the prospects of a breath test confirming what you already know — that you’re legally drunk and were driving. However, refusing a breathalyzer test is unlawful in Virginia and can have negative and severe implications. Additionally, most of the time there is already enough evidence to convict you of driving under the influence, so it won’t save you from being charged and convicted.
The penalty for refusal varies depending on your past record as it relates to DUIs. For a first offense, refusal is merely a civil offense but carries an immediate license suspension and up to a one-year license suspension from the court in addition to any penalties triggered by the DUI.
In addition to the suspensions, if you have a prior DUI conviction or refusal in the last 10 years then it turns into a Class 2 misdemeanor (punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine up to $1,000). If you have two or more such convictions in the last 10 years then refusal is a Class 1 misdemeanor (punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine up to $2,500). Those are pretty severe consequences for one decision, particularly in light of the fact that these penalties are on top of any you may receive for the DUI.
It is worth remembering that there isn’t a requirement that your blood alcohol content (BAC) be a certain level in order to be convicted of a DUI in Virginia. It is illegal to drive while showing any influence of alcohol or drugs that impairs your ability to drive. Evidence of your driving behavior, demeanor, field sobriety tests, and any odors of alcohol will become the basis of determining whether you are under the influence.
Additionally, the penalty you receive can be more severe in cases where there is a refusal and a conviction for driving under the influence. While you may be able to avoid the mandatory sentences that relate to higher BAC levels by refusing the test, you would simply be trading one set of penalties for another if you get convicted.
Between the successful ballot initiatives that legalized casual marijuana use in Colorado and Washington state, and the news that a seven-year-old child is among those legally using marijuana for medicinal purposes, it might seem like American society is moving toward a more permissive attitude toward pot.
That’s exactly what Arlington’s READY Coalition is trying to fight.
The group — whose name stands for Reduce or Eliminate Alcohol and Drug Use by Youth — will be holding a “town hall meeting” this week called Marijuana in Arlington: What’s the Big Deal? The event will seek to remind teens that marijuana can be harmful.
“In the most recent surveys from Arlington teens we see a disturbing decrease in perceptions of harm regarding marijuana and increasing numbers of teens saying they have used marijuana,” the READY Coalition said in a press advisory. “This forum provides a dialogue about a subject that is typically underrepresented in our community. It will explore some of the dangerous consequences of teenage marijuana use.”
The town hall will feature a panel that includes an Emergency Room doctor from INOVA Fairfax Hospital, a scientist from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an Arlington County police officer, and a “young man with extensive experience with marijuana use in Northern Virginia.” The event will be held at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29.
A 2010 survey found that nearly half of all Arlington 12th graders had, at some point, used marijuana, while just over 1 in 4 had used marijuana in the past 30 days.
Family Remembers Homicide Victim — As Arlington police search for the man who killed a Columbia Pike jewelry shop owner on Friday, the family of the victim is speaking out. The victim’s daughter said her dad, 52-year-old Tommy Wong of Herndon, had owned Capital Jewelers at 3219 Columbia Pike for the past 5 years. “I just want to know why didn’t he take what he needed and leave my dad alone,” she said tearfully in a TV interview. [WUSA 9]
Tobacco Use Down Among Arlington Youth – Arlington youths are using less tobacco but are using more marijuana, according to the latest survey by the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families. The survey results point to a continuation of a decade-long trend of declining tobacco use and increasing marijuana use among Arlington youth. [Sun Gazette]
Obituary for Local Business Leader – An obituary has been published for Syd Albrittain, the chief executive of local developer Dittmar Co., who died at the age of 82 last month. In addition to helping Arlington achieve its vision for transit-oriented development, Albrittain gave millions to local organizations like Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School, the Catholic Archdiocese of Arlington, Virginia Hospital Center and the Arlington Free Clinic. [Washington Post]
In this week’s Arlington County crime report, a woman called police after walking past a parked car in Rosslyn and spotting the driver with his pants down.
EXPOSURE, 03/23/12, 1400 block of N. Key Boulevard. On March 23, at 7:15 am, a female victim reported seeing a male subject sitting in a parked vehicle with his pants down as she walked past. The victim took a picture of the subjects car, which caused the subject to drive away. The victim did not wish to press charges.
In Ballston, a man ran from police after officers tried to stop him for questioning. Police say they recovered more than two pounds of pot from the man’s backpack.
POSSESSION WITH INTENT TO DISTRIBUTE (MARIJUANA), 03/23/12, 900 block of N. Taylor Street. On March 23 at 4:20 pm, officers attempted to stop a male suspect in relation to a robbery and a foot pursuit ensued. The suspect was eventually apprehended and a backpack with over 2 lbs of pre-packaged marijuana was found in his possession. Arif Hassan Ahmed, 24, of Arlington, VA, was charged with possession with intent to distribute and was held without bond.
The rest of this week’s crime report, after the jump.
Feel like picking up a little pot with your booze purchase? Delegate David Englin (D) has introduced a bill to examine if that should become a possibility.
As first reported by the Sun Gazette, Del. Englin has called for a study to analyze whether Virginia ABC stores should sell marijuana. Englin wants a report on the potential revenue the state could gain by such sales.
He points out that the sale and use of distilled spirits, at one time considered controversial substances, has been kept in check by the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Part of the legislation reads: “As society changes, products that were deemed illegal at one time are made legal and even sold by stores that are operated by government agencies in the attempt to control the sale of the products.”
The sales of distilled spirits have generated millions of dollars that go toward Virginia’s government programs. Englin says the same might be possible with the sale of marijuana. He adds that other states are also looking into the controlled sale of the drug.
If approved, the subcommittee devised to perform the study would meet up to six times before November 30, and could not spend more than $15,040 on the study, without special approval for additional funding. Findings would be submitted by the first day of the 2013 Regular Session of the General Assembly.
Englin has also proposed a resolution to request that Virginia’s governor petition the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II narcotic, the same as prescription pain medications like oxycodone. Currenty, pot is classified as a Schedule I narcotic, on the same level as heroin and LSD. Englin’s resolution notes that the governors of Rhode Island and Washington state have filed similar petitions with the DEA in recent months.