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This afternoon near the Rosslyn Metro station, Bob Marley was playing and a flag featuring a joint and the words “Come and Take It” was flying.

The event was the legalization of marijuana in Virginia and a giveaway that attracted a line of some 100 people.

Those in line were waiting to receive six marijuana plant seeds — tokens to commemorate the first day of legalized cannabis possession on this side of the Potomac River. The seeds are from Virginia Marijuana Justice, an advocacy group celebrating legalization today with “The Great Commonwealth Cannabis Seed Share.”

Virginians 21 and older can now possess, consume and grow small amounts of the plant, but unless a doctor has signed off on a prescription, there’s no legal way to buy it, the Virginia Mercury reports. Lawmakers aim to begin recreational retail sales in 2024, giving the Commonwealth three years to establish a Virginia Cannabis Control Authority to regulate the market.

Outside the Rosslyn Metro station was one of four locations where volunteers with VAMJ gave out seeds. The Arlington seed share lasted from 12-2 p.m. and among the four sites, more than 20,000 seeds were distributed, said organizer Adam Eidinger.

“We are very happy on this historic day,” Eidinger said. “All four locations in Virginia had long lines and are giving away all the seeds we raised. Authorities were only concerned with large numbers of people, not the cannabis.”

The organization’s celebration started last night on the Key Bridge.

Chinara and Maurice, who only gave their first name, were among the crowd standing in line this afternoon.

Maurice said he was there “to partake in this transition that’s occurring,” saying he is glad “there is more acceptance for things that are natural.”

Despite the crowd’s size, Chinara said the line moved quickly. The R&B and Neo Soul singer-songwriter said she appreciates marijuana because “it makes me feel like I’m able to interact more smoothly with people.”

VAMJ gave out the seeds to people 21 and older with a valid ID. Organizers reminded participants to be patient, let senior citizens go first in line and make friends. They also reminded people that the law only permits four plants in a home.

The giveaway finished about 45 minutes before the thunderstorms rolled in.

Although the mood this afternoon was joyous, advocates say work remains to be done.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, the leader of a parallel Virginia-based group, Marijuana Justice, said the new law has a lot of gaps and she is skeptical that Black and Brown people will actually be treated equally for possessing the plant.

Her group is advocating for next year’s legislature to “repeal, repair and [make] reparations.” It has formed a Legalize It Right coalition to discuss the new Virginian law and how to tackle these goals.

Specifically, the group wants the legislature to remove an open container law that punishes people for possessing the plant in anything but the original manufacturers’ container. The group wants to see public consumption legalized — right now Virginians can only partake at home — and zero tolerance policies on college and university campuses removed.

In addition, Marijuana Justice wants records for marijuana-related crimes expunged and reparations for people arrested and convicted for committing such crimes.

VAMJ also wrote in a blog post that the fight is not over.

“Just because you can grow your own cannabis, doesn’t mean that the war on drugs is won,” the post said. “We still have a lot of work to do to ensure not only local legalization, but legalization across the country, to benefit all interested parties. There are still friends and family members in jail for cannabis in Virginia. We need to demand their immediate release.”

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It’s July 1, the date in which new state legislation goes into effect in Virginia.

The new laws ban balloon launches, extend for one year the ability of restaurant to offer to-go alcoholic beverages, and require drivers to maintain at least three feet of distance when passing cyclists. But perhaps the most high-profile legislation is the legalization of marijuana in the Commonwealth.

More from the Virginia Mercury:

As of today, marijuana is legal for adults 21 and older to possess, consume and grow in Virginia. But unless a doctor has signed off on a prescription, there’s no legal way to buy it.

Lawmakers have set a 2024 target to begin retail sales to recreational users, a runway the legislation’s authors say is necessary to establish the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority, which will regulate the new market.

But some legalization advocates are hoping the General Assembly will agree to speed up that time frame.

“Our priority in the 2022 legislative session is to expedite retail access for adult consumers, both through already operational medical dispensaries and by moving up the date VCCA can begin issuing new licenses,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML.

More than 80% of respondents to an ARLnow poll earlier this year said they support the legalization of marijuana. And more than half of respondents to a subsequent poll said they “definitely” or “maybe” will partake in legal weed.

But we’re wondering whether the enactment of the new law today changes anything for anybody. Will legalization actually result in you doing something you didn’t do before?

Photo by Rick Proctor on Unsplash

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Our Arlington Agenda post is back for the first time since the pandemic started.

As a reminder: Arlington Agenda is a listing of interesting events for the week ahead in Arlington County. If you’d like your event considered, fill out the event submission form to submit it to our event calendar.

Monday, May 3

Patterns at Gallery Underground
Shops at Crystal City, 2100 Crystal Drive
Time:

Gallery Underground in May presents in the Focus Gallery, Patterns: an all-member show of works highlighting pattern and texture. Media used in the display include oil, acrylic, pastel, water media, sculpture, glass, ceramics, wood and metalwork.

Tuesday, May 4

Protecting What You Build: Intellectual Property as the Entrepreneur’s Core Asset
Virtually via Zoom
Time: Noon-2 p.m.

This free session hosted by the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP) at GMU Law School will guide attendees through types of intellectual property and how experienced entrepreneurs rely on them to implement their visions.

Wednesday, May 5

Legislative Update for Landlords in NOVA*
Virtually via Zoom
Time: 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

This webinar will review all Virginia laws going into effect on July 1, 2021, ensuring landlords understand new laws and know they are operating within the law — particularly regarding the legalization of marijuana.

Thursday, May 6

Lunch with a Librarian: Virtual Book Buzz
Virtually via Zoom
Time: Noon-12:30 p.m.

Drop in our monthly 30-minute book buzz with local librarians, with library staff and the public swapping book recommendations.

Friday, May 7

Second Anniversary Fundraising Event
Troy’s Italian Kitchen (2710 Washington Blvd)
Time: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Troy’s Italian Kitchen is celebrating its two-year anniversary with a fundraiser to give back to the community. A portion of proceeds on Friday will go to the Arlington Food Assistance Center and the Lyon Park Community Center.

5K Fridays: The Great Inflatable Race
Courtyard Green (2121 Crystal Drive)
Time: 6-7 p.m.

Pacers and the National Landing BID’s annual 5K series returns this Friday with a wacky summer inflatable attire theme. Registration is limited to 250 participants, so make prospective runners should sign-up in advance.

*Denotes featured (sponsored) event.

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Last week the Virginia General Assembly approved a marijuana legalization law that will take effect this summer.

Yes, come July 1, you can legally possess, cultivate and share small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Regulated, commercial sales of cannabis products are not set to take place in Virginia until 2024 under the legislation.

When we asked ARLnow readers what you thought about marijuana legalization in the Commonwealth, about 85% of respondents said they supported it, either this summer or a few years from now, as originally proposed. (Gov. Ralph Northam sent the bill back to the General Assembly to move up the timeline for legalization to July.)

Given the support for legalization, we were wondering how many readers were actually planning to partake in the newly-legal weed.

Photo by Rick Proctor on Unsplash

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Gov. Ralph Northam announced this morning a proposal to move up the legalization of marijuana in Virginia to this summer.

A legalization bill championed by state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), who represents part of Arlington, passed the General Assembly earlier this year. But it called for legalization of recreational marijuana possession and cultivation on Jan. 1, 2024.

Northam is sending the bill back to the state legislature to consider a July 1, 2021 implementation.

“Governor Ralph Northam today proposed moving up the legalization of simple possession of marijuana to July 1, 2021, nearly three years sooner than previously planned,” said a press release. “The Governor also announced he is proposing changes that advance public health protections, set clear expectations for labor protections in the cannabis industry, and begin to seal criminal records [of past marijuana convictions] immediately.”

Ebbin told news outlets he thinks the sped-up timeline will be approved.

“My colleagues and I worked closely with Governor Northam to ensure this bill prioritizes public health and social equity,” Ebbin said in a press release from the governor’s office. “I look forward to adopting these amendments and passing this important legislation into law.”

While small-scale marijuana possession was decriminalized in Virginia last year, Northam said those facing fines under the new statute are disproportionately Black.

“Virginia’s communities of color deserve equity — and that means taking action now to end the disproportionate fines, arrests, and convictions of marijuana offenses,” Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax said in the press release.

The bill allows people 21 and over to “legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis, without intent to distribute,” and will also “allow households to grow up to four plants… out of sight from public view, and out of range of individuals under the age of 21.”

Smoking marijuana while driving and possession of it on school grounds will remain illegal.

Previous ARLnow polls revealed strong local support for marijuana decriminalization. When Ebbin proposed it in 2016, nearly 80% of poll respondents said they supported decriminalization. In 2019, when then-candidate Parisa Dehghani-Tafti pledged not to prosecute simple marijuana possession charges as Commonwealth’s Attorney, more than 75% of poll respondents said they supported that.

Legalization obviously goes beyond decriminalization, however, and there are some who believe the risks associated with marijuana use call for something less than full legalization. There are also some who think Virginia should take more time to legalize weed, in order to allow a more orderly establishment of a statewide marijuana industry.

Still, Northam’s changes to the legalization bill reportedly have support on both sides of the aisle and are expected to pass

What do you think?

Photo by Roberto Valdivia/Unsplash

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Morning Notes

Police Trying to ID Robbery Suspect — “The Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit is investigating a series of convenience store robberies and is seeking the public’s assistance identifying a suspect captured on cell phone image.” [ACPD]

Gymnasts May Be Barred from State Tourney — “The [Washington-Liberty] girls high-school gymnastics team won its third straight 6D North Region championship… The Arlington school system has made a preliminary decision not to allow the W-L team to attend the state meet because of the pandemic. Parents of the W-L gymnasts are asking the school system to allow the Generals to participate.” [InsideNova]

Local Architects Like HQ2 Design — “The majority of architects and designers who spoke with the Washington Business Journal about the NBBJ-designed Helix had a positive take on Amazon’s plans and its new flagship structure. Most said it could become an iconic building that would give Arlington a sense of place. But a few were more cautious, noting there could be ramifications of allowing a megacorporation to build and own such an architecturally striking landmark.” [Washington Business Journal]

Va. Bishops Support Death Penalty Bill — “Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond issued the following statement on passage of death penalty abolition legislation: ‘We welcome today’s vote by the Virginia House of Delegates to abolish the death penalty, as well as the vote by the Virginia Senate to do so earlier this week.'” [Diocese of Arlington, Arlington Catholic Herald]

Pot Legalization Bill Passes — “Lawmakers in both chambers of Virginia’s General Assembly approved legislation Friday that clears the way for legal cannabis sales in the state. The move sets up Virginia to be the first southern state to establish a recreational marijuana marketplace, and potentially the first to do so in the Washington region.” [DCist]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Morning Notes

Va. Supreme Court Passes on Pot Prosecution Case — “The Virginia Supreme Court has rejected an effort by Arlington’s chief prosecutor to rein in judges who are skeptical of her refusal to prosecute marijuana possession. But the court did not resolve the conflict, saying it could not weigh in because it had not been asked to consider any specific case.” [Washington Post]

Big Response to Mailbox — “‘We’ve collected at least probably 500 letters in the two weeks that we’ve had the [Santa] mailbox out,’ Rachael Tolman, the Park Manager at Gulf Branch Park said. ‘It’s a lot of letters.’ The lists some children put in the mailbox looked different, with requests for masks and good health.” [WUSA 9]

Nonprofit Merger Complete — “Bridges to Independence, a Northern Virginia provider of housing and vital services for at-risk families and individuals, has finalized its merger with the Bonder and Amanda Johnson Community Development Corp., a community-based non-profit with a mission to address the health, education, financial empowerment and social service needs of people living in Arlington’s Green Valley neighborhood.” [InsideNova]

Pedestrian Struck in Ballston — “Police and medics on scene of a pedestrian struck by a driver in front of the Ballston Harris Teeter on N. Glebe Road. So far, the victim’s injuries sound minor.” [Twitter]

Holiday Pop-Ups in National Landing — “As part of National Landing’s mission to activate public spaces, the BID has unveiled ‘Turn Up the Love,’ a winterlong campaign featuring a series of engaging outdoor pop-ups. These festive installations include a larger-than-life boombox adorned with thousands of colorful ornaments, three shareable photo frames and even more surprises to be announced after the holidays.” [National Landing BID]

Nearby: BB Gun Shootings in FC — “Police investigated calls of vandalism and found a teen who confessed to at least 50 incidents of shooting vehicles and people. Some victims have been identified, but police believe there may be more.” [City of Falls Church]

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Morning Notes

A First for ACFD — “A veteran firefighter in Arlington County, Virginia, is breaking barriers as she rises through the ranks. Tiffanye Wesley is the first African American woman named deputy fire chief in all of Northern Virginia.” [NBC 4]

County Wants Feedback on Camera Policy — ” The Arlington County Police Department, Sheriff’s Office and Fire Marshals’ Office are seeking the public’s input and feedback on draft Digital Evidence Management System policies, regulating digital audio and video recordings captured by body worn cameras, in-car cameras, and interview room cameras.” [Arlington County]

Guilty Plea in Murder Case — “Jose Angel Rodriguez-Cruz, 54, pleaded guilty in Stafford County Circuit Court on Monday morning in the killing of 28-year-old Marta Haydee Rodriguez, who was last seen walking to a bus stop in Arlington, Virginia, in April 1989.” [WTOP, Washington Post]

Vehicle and Business Break-ins — Arlington County police are investigating a pair of business burglaries in the Rosslyn area, and series of vehicle break-ins in the Barcroft neighborhood, according to Monday’s crime report. [ACPD]

Gov. Backs Marijuana Legalization — “Governor Ralph Northam today announced that he will introduce and support legislation to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The announcement comes as the Northam Administration prepares to release a report on the impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana.” [Commonwealth of Virginia]

Amazon Order Boosts 23rd Street — “By early May, more than 400 meals a day were leaving the Freddie’s kitchen and reaching firefighters, police, hospitals, and area residents in low-income housing… Due to the size of Amazon’s order, he enlisted a dozen other nearby restaurants. This joint effort ‘breathed life, energy, and activity into the independent restaurants that make up the core of 23rd Street.'” [Amazon]

Reopening Groups Blast Teachers — “Our coalitions of over 5,300 parents, teachers and Northern Virginia residents unite today to express dismay and concern of the latest efforts by a group of Northern Virginia education associations pushing Governor Northam to remove the option for in-person school for all of Virginia’s children.” [Arlington Parents for Education]

Local Districts Pause Reopening — “As COVID-19 cases surge, Fairfax County Public Schools will delay bringing back early HeadStart, pre-K and kindergarten students, plus some students who receive special education services… [and] Falls Church City Public Schools announced Tuesday that they will temporarily ‘pause’ in-person learning for the week of Thanksgiving.” [NBC 4, InsideNova, Washington Post]

Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick

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Morning Notes

Crystal City Development Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved JBG Smith’s plan to develop Crystal Gateway, a nine-story office building with ground-floor retail,  at 101 12th Street S. in Crystal City. Community benefits associated with the project include the developer conveying 54,500 sq. ft. of land for Gateway Park, which will connect Long Bridge Park to Crystal City.” [Arlington County]

Teacher Groups Banding Together — “Representatives from teacher associations in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Arlington and Manassas Park will host a news conference Monday urging a return to virtual-only learning. In a statement Sunday evening, the Fairfax Education Association said it ‘stands with our colleagues from the Northern Virginia region to ask the Governor to return the Commonwealth to a full Phase II of the reopening plan and to recommend that our schools return to a fully virtual method of instruction.'” [InsideNova]

Feedback Sought for Police Chief Search — “The County Manager has launched a search for a new leader of the Arlington County Police Department. During the first phase of the search, the County is interested in hearing from the community. ‘We value the perspective of every resident and business,’ said County Manager Mark Schwartz… You can offer feedback through December 11.” [Arlington County]

Joint Chiefs Chair’s Wife Saves the Day — “When a bystander collapsed at the Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday, a nurse was nearby and rushed to his aid. She happened to be the wife of the nation’s top military officer, Gen. Mark Milley.” [NBC News]

‘Click It or Ticket’ Starts Today — ” The Thanksgiving celebration is traditionally one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. As the holiday approaches, the Arlington County Police Department is teaming up with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on a high visibility Click It or Ticket campaign.” [Arlington County]

State Sen. Pushing Pot Legalization — “We’re continuing to build a bipartisan coalition to #legalize responsible adult use of #marijuana in Virginia. I am working hard to ensure that ending the war on drugs is a top priority.” [@AdamEbbin/Twitter, Virginia Mercury]

N. Va. Delivered State for Biden — “Updated counts from the Virginia Department of Elections show that President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, defeated Trump by over 520,000 votes in Northern Virginia, defined as the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park… Across the rest of Virginia, Trump, a Republican, defeated Biden by about 70,000 votes, winning 50.2% to Biden’s 47.9%.” [InsideNova]

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(Updated at noon) The Arlington County Circuit Court rejected a plea bargain that would place a Maryland man on two years of probation for allegedly bringing 50 pounds of marijuana and 400 cartridges of hashish oil into the county.

The suspect is accused of arriving on a flight to Reagan National Airport in November 2018 with a checked bag stuffed with drugs. He was arrested by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority at baggage claim.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti and the attorney representing the alleged drug carrier agreed that the defendant would plead guilty to two felony charges and be placed on probation, wrote the presiding judge. After completing the probation and 200 hours of community service, he would be able to withdraw the pleas to the felony charges and instead plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges while having a $100 fine imposed but then suspended.

Judge Daniel Fiore, II, in a memorandum of opinion that was obtained by ARLnow, said the punishment would not deter the defendant, or anyone else, from carrying large amounts of drugs into Virginia for distribution.

“Virginia jurisprudence has long and consistently recognized deterrence as means for a court to determine an appropriate sentence, no matter the criminal statute violated,” Fiore wrote. “Deterrence disincentives unlawful behavior both for the individual and for society.”

Excerpts of Fiore’s opinion were published in late September in Virginia Lawyers Weekly. A call to judge’s chambers was not returned. Dehghani-Tafti told ARLnow that she could not comment on the case at this point.

This rejected bargain is part of a larger theater taking place across the nation, as some prosecutors are changing their approach to drug crimes and judges are fighting back. The tug-of-war reached Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who signed a law last month that would require judges to dismiss charges when both the prosecution and defense agree to a bargain or deal.

Fiore wrote that he rejected the bargain in part because the prosecution and defense had understated how much marijuana and hashish the defendant had. The amounts, once disclosed, merited prison sentences between five and 40 years and fines of up to $500,000, Fiore wrote.

Focusing on the quantity of drugs strikes Public Defender Brad Haywood as a bit naive, considering the defendant was likely a low-level “drug mule” put in a high-risk situation by higher-level drug traffickers. He might not have known the quantity of drugs he was carrying, as mules often do not, Haywood said in an email, adding that mules are often thought of as victims of drug trafficking.

“They are under duress; fearful for their safety, desperate for money, or desperate to feed their own addictions,” he said. “They are easy to manipulate precisely because they are suffering. They can even be pressured into doing something as irrational as traveling on a plane with tons of narcotics.”

Given the risk involved, mules are often caught, Haywood said. Instead of harshly prosecuting mules, however, the government frequently offers them leniency so they can help apprehend the supplier.

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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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