Arlington, VA

Arlington is rolling marijuana in with efforts to prevent opioid abuse, but some see the anti-weed campaign as outdated.

Nicole Merlene, a former state Senate candidate and an ARLnow columnist, noted on Twitter that Arlington is promoting a campaign called ‘NoWeedArlington.org’, which links back to a county health department page on the dangers of marijuana.

“Despite the fact that marijuana is legalized in many states, marijuana still poses many health risks including the risk for addiction,” the page says. “The surgeon general has put out a warning related to marijuana use – specifically related to the risks of marijuana use during adolescence.”

Kurt Larrick, assistant director of the Arlington Department of Human Services, said the campaign is meant specifically to prevent marijuana use among children and teenagers, and is part of a larger effort to prevent opioid abuse.

“The ad is an awareness campaign against marijuana use by youth,” Larrick said. “The information conveyed in the message is directly from the current Surgeon General’s message of the negative impact of marijuana use on the adolescent developing brain. The correlation between early marijuana use and opioid abuse later in life is a commonly known fact within prevention/substance use literature.”

Larrick said the campaign was not launched in response to the impending decriminalization of marijuana in Virginia.

The movement towards decriminalizing marijuana has also taken hold at a local level, with Commonwealth Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti ousting an incumbent last year with promises to stop prosecuting marijuana cases, among other reforma. Fairfax Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano was elected in Fairfax with a similar platform.

“This ad has nothing to do with ‘decriminalization’ or ‘legalization’ of marijuana,” Larrick said. “The ad was developed by [Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative] and Prevention with support/approval from DHS leadership. The ad is supported by SOR (State Opioid Response) funds and approved by the grant administrator.”

Larrick said the County’s position and its partnership with other local organizations is longstanding and also addresses other underage drug abuse issues.

“Arlington County, the Department of Human Services, Arlington Public Schools, and our community partners — including the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families, the Ready Coalition, and the Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative have long been on the same page when it comes to the harmful impact of marijuana on the teenage brain,” Larrick said. “We have also partnered on initiatives related to underage drinking, smoking, and vaping.”

While the legalization of marijuana is lighting up across the U.S., the impacts of marijuana use on brain development remains a topic of study.

Photo by Roberto Valdivia on Unsplash

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A search for a suspect wanted for armed robbery prompted police helicopter activity over Arlington early Thursday morning.

An officer spotted the wanted suspect near the intersection of Wilson Blvd and N. Garfield Street in Clarendon shortly before 12:30 a.m. Upon seeing the officer about to make a traffic stop, the suspect pulled his car over, bailed out and took off running, according to Arlington County Police.

The Fairfax County Police helicopter was called in to help search for the suspect. Despite the chopper circling the area for some 30-60 minutes — as seen in the flight path map above — the suspect was not found and the search was called off.

While the suspect made a clean getaway, another vehicle occupant was arrested and charged with drug possession and identity theft, police said.

More from ACPD:

NARCOTICS VIOLATION (Significant), 2020-04090001, Wilson Boulevard at N. Garfield Street. At approximately 12:22 a.m. on April 9, an officer on patrol observed a vehicle believed to be occupied by a known wanted subject. As the officer prepared to make a traffic stop, the subject pulled his vehicle over and fled the scene on foot. A perimeter was established and the area was searched with the assistance of Fairfax County Police Helicopter. The search concluded with negative results. The subject is described as a Hispanic male in his 30s, approximately 5’7″ tall with dark facial hair. He was wearing glasses, a black hoodie, black shirt and jeans at the time of the incident. Two additional occupants of the vehicle were detained by officers on scene and, following the investigation, one was arrested and charged. Cindy Tosti, 29, of Alexandria, Va. was charged with Possession of a Scheduled I/II Controlled Substance and Identity Theft. She was held on no bond. The investigation is ongoing.

Photo courtesy Stephan P.

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Morning Notes

More Coronavirus-Related Dispatches — ARLnow is starting to hear the Arlington County Fire Department responding to more suspected COVID-19 cases. Medics were just dispatched to assist a 44-year-old woman with severe trouble breathing and other symptoms consistent with the disease.

May Could Be Worse Than April — “It could still be weeks before the worst of the coronavirus crisis hits Virginia. State officials are preparing for a surge in the number of people who test positive between late April and late May, Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday that analysis of the latest models shows. Northam told residents he was planning for the worst and hoping for the best.” [NBC 4]

Prosecutors Have Video Evidence in Store Shooting — “The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office showed the judge security video from the Shirlington Road business, which prosecutors said captures Abushariah shooting one of the burglars ‘point-blank in the back…’ The prosecutor called the case a ‘callous disregard for human life’ because Abushariah had other options, such as hiding in the backroom and calling the police. Or running to safety out the back door.” [WJLA]

Arlington Resident’s YOLO Money Diary — “We then took some mushrooms around 12 PM and went on a long, trippy, and fun-filled walk through Rosslyn. We stopped at Northside Social for some pastries and a Bitburger beer while on our walk–more illegal public drinking, but we kind of just don’t care anymore.” [Washingtonian]

Two Green Pig Employees Test Positive — “We regret to inform you that two of our employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Both… had been working with customers assisting with order-pickups. Neither were working in the kitchen or with food prep.” [Instagram]

Bakeshop Now Mailing Some Items — Bakeshop in Clarendon is now taking orders of cookies, cream pies, bars and bread slices online. Orders are shipped on Mondays to ensure freshness. [Bakeshop]

Marymount Prof is 3D Printing Face Shields — “Marymount University professor Dr. Eric Bubar is getting in on the action, with hopes of utilizing his unique skills to make a difference. A longtime provider of 3D printed upper-limb assistive devices, he is now shifting his focus to creating 3D printed, reusable face shields for use at hospitals in Washington, D.C., New York and beyond.” [Press Release]

APS to Distribute Week of Meals to Families in Need — “On Fri, April 3, APS will provide a week’s worth of meals to families who come to one of the five grab-and-go meal distribution sites to ensure students have food during spring break. There will be no APS meal service provided April 6-10… Meal services will resume on Mon, April 13, with an expanded list of sites to include Key and Hoffman-Boston elementary schools. Additionally, the USDA has provided a waiver to the rule that children must be present to receive meals.” [Arlington Public Schools]

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(Updated at 9:55 p.m.) The coronavirus outbreak hasn’t held back the long arm of the law in Arlington.

Heavily-armed Arlington County Police tactical teams conducted a drug-related operation today, as seen in photos sent to ARLnow.

The incident pictured happened around 4:30 p.m. at the BB&T Bank parking lot (1100 S. Walter Reed Drive) near Columbia Pike. At least one person could be seen standing outside a car surrounded by officers dressed in camouflage uniforms.

A similar operation happened around 3 p.m. in the Green Valley neighborhood, according to a witness and a video reviewed by ARLnow.

ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage confirmed to ARLnow that “multiple individuals” into custody today as part of a “narcotics investigation.”

“The investigation is ongoing and there is no threat to public,” Savage said.

Additional details were not immediately available, and there’s no word on what charges, if any, will be filed against those in custody.

A similar amount of SWAT firepower was on display in February during another narcotics-related operation in the Virginia Square neighborhood.

Photos courtesy Michael Owings

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State Senator Adam Ebbin celebrated a win on Sunday as the Virginia legislature approved the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Under the new legislation, recreational marijuana will remain illegal, but the penalty is reduced to a $25 civil fine rather than the current penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. The decriminalization also includes hash and oil concentrates, of which it is currently a felony to possess, according to Virginia Mercury.

It’s been a long-running fight for Ebbin, who represents parts of Arlington and has frequently proposed decriminalization laws with limited success.

“This is going to make a tremendous difference in up to 30,000 Virginians lives who receive a criminal charge each year,” Ebbin told ARLnow. “They’ll no longer have the repercussions that come with a criminal charge. I think we’ll be in a much better place with a modest fine.”

Ebbin described decriminalization as a necessary step forward. Legalization is the eventual goal, and Ebbin’s legislation has faced some pushback from advocates like the ACLU who says it doesn’t go far enough.

Ebbin said a study of the impacts of decriminalization — which was also approved by the newly Democrat-controlled legislature — is necessary before the state can more broadly legalize marijuana.

“I want to make sure we get it right in terms of taxation, distribution, keeping it away from minors,” Ebbin said. “Those are all things to be considered as we come up with the structure. No state, to my knowledge, has ever legalized without decriminalizing first.”

The bill still has to be signed by Governor Ralph Northam, but if it is, Ebbin noted that decriminalization would take effect on July 1.

The move toward decriminalization was celebrated by some on Twitter, including Arlington Commonwealth Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, who was elected last fall with a platform that included ending prosecution of some marijuana possession cases.

Ebbin said the next steps are to work on the study and get more information to start on the path to legalization.

“[Then] we can start to work on the structure by which we might legalize or introduce legislation to legalize, but I don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” Ebbin said. “Nothing decriminalized until July 1, but I think it would put us in a good place.”

File photo

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Heavily-armed Arlington County Police officers made what appears to be a major arrest near the Virginia Square Metro early Friday evening.

A SWAT team, police K-9s and plain-clothes officers could be seen near the Metro station and the Virginia Square Towers condo complex, on the 900 block of N. Lincoln Street, around 3:30 p.m. Friday. Two people, a man and a woman, were detained by police outside the Metro station.

Police dressed in tactical gear and armed with assault-style rifles were seen coming in and out of the condo building, as uniformed officers blocked traffic on N. Lincoln Street. A white Cadillac was searched outside the Metro station, as more tactical and plain-clothes officers stood by.

A police spokeswoman described the activity as “a narcotics investigation.”

“[A] suspect has been taken into custody,” ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage told ARLnow. “This remain an active investigation and there’s no ongoing threat to the public. Expect continued police presence in the area.”

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The Arlington County Police Department and the Virginia National Guard are planning a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) that could add state-level counter drug support to Arlington’s local law enforcement.

At the Saturday (Feb. 22) meeting, the County Board is scheduled to review the MOU that would add a new National Guard analyst to the police department’s Organized Crime Section.

“This MOU will provide guidance on a collaborative relationship for a [National Guard] counter drug analyst embedded within the Organized Crime Section to assist with the analysis of data obtained through drug investigations and provide the opportunity for additional [National Guard] support,” a staff report said. “The proposed MOU would also provide additional opportunities for VANG assistance and support with respect to counter-drug activities in the County.”

The staff report says that the National Guard is authorized to provide support for activities like “investigative case and analyst support” and “domestic cannabis eradication support.” The National Guard would only be in a support role and would not be involved in “operational aspects of law enforcement nor evidence collection or preservation,” the report said.

The analyst would, at no cost to the department, also assist in analyzing cell phone records and other collected data.

“ACPD will be able to utilize the VANG personnel to further investigations at no additional cost to the County,” a county staff report notes. “In addition, the MOU will open the possibilities of utilizing the VANG in other support roles to further the counter drug activities of the ACPD.”

Photo by Jay Westcott

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Local and federal law enforcement agencies are organizing an event to dispose of unwanted medications.

On Saturday, October 26, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Arlington County Police Department, the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will collect prescription drugs from people who want to clear our their cabinets.

Officers will be stationed at Fire Station #1 (500 S. Glebe Road), Fire Station #2 (4805 Wilson Boulevard), and Fire Station #9  (1900 S. Walter Reed Drive) during the day to collect the medications.

The event is a part of an annualnationwide movement of police departments encouraging Americans to dispose of extra or unused medications to prevent them from being sold illegally, ingested accidentally, or disposed of improperly.

Needles will not be accepted at any of the three sites on Saturday — only pills and patches can be dropped off during the event.

“To safely dispose of sharps, Arlington County recommends placing the item in a hard-plastic container, such as a detergent bottle, securing the container and placing it in your trash cart,” ACPD noted in its press release about the event. “Do not put this container in your recycling.”

Arlington has also installed several drug drop-off boxes around the county where people can dispose of unwanted medications anytime. However, the boxes only accept pills, vitamins, ointments, and patches.

So far, ACPD says the county has collected 2,816 pounds of drugs via the boxes since installing three of them last year. After collecting 1,000 pounds last year, the department added a new box in the beginning of 2019.

The boxes are available for drop-offs anytime and are installed in the side of the following buildings:

  • Fire Station #2 (4805 Wilson Boulevard)
  • Fire Station #5 (1750 S. Hayes Street)
  • Fire Station #9 (1900 S. Walter Reed Drive)
  • Arlington County Police Department HQ (1425 N. Courthouse Road)
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Morning Notes

Pedestrian Struck on Crash-Prone Stretch — “A pedestrian was struck on Washington Blvd in front of Washington-Liberty HS around 10 a.m. this morning. The victim was transported to a hospital with minor injuries, per scanner traffic. This stretch has seen numerous pedestrians struck by drivers over the past few years.” [Twitter]

Local Leaders from Wa. Coming to Talk Amazon — “How do you prepare for Amazon.com Inc. when the company plans to drastically grow in your city? That’s what city officials from Bellevue, Washington, hope to learn from our own Arlington, as they send an envoy to meet with county leaders Thursday. The communities… each expect to house more than 4,000 Amazon employees by 2022.” [Washington Business Journal]

Prescription Drug Take-Back Day Approaching — “On Saturday, October 26, 2019, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Arlington County Police Department, Arlington County Sheriff’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will give the public its 18th opportunity in nine years to prevent pill abuse and theft by ridding their homes of potentially dangerous expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs. This disposal service is free and anonymous, no questions asked.” [Arlington  County]

Special Burial and Flyover at ANC — “A pilot who died during WWII was finally laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Air Force Major Donn Young’s remains were recovered decades after his B-25 bomber crashed in Papua New Guinea… The burial happened, in part, because of an adventurous entrepreneur.” [WJLA]

Another Wohl, Burkman Press Conference — Conservative provocateurs Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl held yet another press conference outside Burkman’s Rosslyn area townhouse to accuse another Democratic presidential candidate of sexual impropriety. The press conference was disrupted by a bagpiper, a process server and a man in a corn suit. [Twitter]

Congressman: Congress Must ‘Do Something’ About Trump — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) tweeted yesterday: “President Trump just said out loud that it’s OK to betray our Kurdish allies and allow the release of 11,000 ISIS fighters because ‘they’re going to be escaping to Europe.’ He’s out of completely out of control and Congress has to do something about it.” [Twitter]

Photo courtesy Catherine Ladd

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A pharmacy owner with stores in Arlington and Alexandria has been sentenced to four years behind bars for falsifying insurance claims and illegally dispensing opioids.

Latif Mohamed Chowdhury, 29, was sentenced to prison on Friday after law enforcement accused him of running a get rich quick scheme by billing insurance companies for prescriptions he never filled, and in some cases, were never prescribed by a doctor to the patient. Officials say Chowdhury, who did not have a pharmacy license, dispensed medications and billed insurance companies at his two pharmacies between August 2015 and February 2016 using identities he had stolen from licensed pharmacists.

“Chowdhury blithely violated his position of trust,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, in a statement last week.

Federal prosecutors said Chowdhury pocketed $500,000 from his fraudulent billing and illegally dispensed “a significant number” of opioid and other medications.

Officials also said in the course of their investigation they found Chowdhury had given opioids to seven-year-old children “outside the usual course of professional practice.”

While searching one of the pharmacies, officials said they found Chowdhury had left a loaded Colt .38 revolver on one of the store’s shelves.

The Arlington pharmacy (called ACP-2) was located at 611 S. Carlin Springs Road, at the Virginia Hospital Center campus that is being acquired by Arlington County in a land swap. The Alexandria pharmacy (ACP-1) was located at 8330 Richmond Highway.

“Although one of Chowdhury’s family members owned ACP-2, Chowdhury in fact operated, managed, directed, and controlled ACP-2 from in or around January 2015 through in or around February 2016. ACP-2 was shut down for business in March 2016,” Matthew Nestopoulos, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, told ARLnow.

On his LinkedIn, Chowdhury listed experience working in information technology — including eight months at the Pentagon — before leaving the field and opening the two pharmacists.

“In 2013 I began to venture towards opening a business and work alongside my career to grow Alexandria Care Pharmacy which has now been successfully operating for two years,” he wrote.

His most recent post included a call to hire “full-time background investigators” for a new business venture.

“We are committed to protecting the public and the people of Virginia,” said Jesse R. Fong, Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Washington Field Division. “We will continue to track down and bring to justice criminals who are fueling the opiate crisis at every level including pill writers, pill fillers, and drug dealers in the area.”

Friday’s sentencing came after Chowdhury pled guilty in July.

Flickr photo by Joe Gratz

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Morning Notes

Water Main Break Near CourthouseUpdated at 8:10 a.m. — “Emergency Water Main Repairs: Crews working on a 3-inch main at 2000 N. Adams St. The area includes high-rise buildings and some 100 customers could be affected. Traffic is detoured around the work site.” [Twitter]

Gun, Drug Arrest at Pentagon City Metro — A man is facing a litany of gun and drug-related charges after being arrested by Metro Transit Police officers for alleged fare evasion at the Pentagon City station this past Thursday. [Twitter]

APS Hits Full Bus Driver Staffing — “The school year began with full staffing of drivers and bus attendants, who serve 18,000 eligible students over 154 routes, using 200 buses.” [InsideNova]

DCA Starbucks Closing Permanently — “Beginning on or about Monday, September 9, Starbucks on the Ticketing level of Terminal B/C will close to make way for construction of a steel-framed glass divider.” [Reagan National Airport]

New Permitting System Launches Today — “Arlington County is launching the first phase of Permit Arlington, a new online permitting system, on Sept. 9, 2019.” [Arlington County]

Nearby: Alexandria Metro Stations Reopening — “Alexandria Metrorail stations will reopen at 5 a.m. on September 9, with full service following Metro’s summer Platform Improvement Project. Metro closed all four Metrorail stations in Alexandria (as well as two in Fairfax County) for safety repairs on May 25.” [City of Alexandria]

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