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A recent Arlington Committee of 100 meeting (via Committee of 100/Youtube)

In the wake of a recent veto of a Virginia recreational marijuana bill, proponents are still holding out hope for future change — but not for at least a couple years.

At an Arlington Committee of 100 meeting last week, State Sens. Adam Ebbin and Aaron Rouse said the chances of the Virginia General Assembly overriding Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s decision earlier this month are slim to none.

Legislation to legalize retail sale of cannabis passed the state House and Senate on thin margins before getting the ax from the governor, who cited public health concerns. Since overruling a veto requires a two-thirds majority, the Democratic senators said the bill’s near-term future will likely hinge on the 2025 governor’s race.

If a Democrat wins, they believe the legislation could potentially pass in 2027.

“I think there’s a recognition even [on] the other side of the aisle that this is what’s coming, with the lack of their effort to try and repeal the progress that we’ve already made,” said Ebbin, a longtime advocate who represents part of Arlington and led the charge to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2020.

Virginia became the first Southern state to legalize medical marijuana in 2021. Rouse, the Virginia Beach senator who introduced the legislation, argued that creating a taxed and regulated retail market would curb the influence of an unregulated black market and generate tax revenue to benefit disadvantaged communities.

“Making sure there’s a market where these products are tested, they’re labeled, they’re sold in safe and licensed places; making sure that kids don’t have … access to these products — it’s needed,” Rouse said.

No matter what path Virginia takes in coming years, speakers at the Committee of 100 meeting said the stakes are high.

Shawn Casey, a deputy chief officer with the nonpartisan Virginia Cannabis Control Authority, noted research on marijuana’s addictive properties and potential harm to brain health and cognitive development. A 2021 survey found that 13% of Virginia high schoolers were using marijuana at least once a month, and 4% of high schoolers had tried the substance for the first time before age 13.

Northern Virginia, Casey said, has a lower portion of marijuana users than the state as a whole, with 20% of the region’s population using the drug in the past three months compared to 24% of surveyed Virginians.

“Data right now is something that’s still emerging in the cannabis world, and so not all of it is as complete as we’d like,” she noted.

Youngkin said in his veto statement that legalizing marijuana’s recreational sale would mean “compounding the risks and endangering Virginians’ health and safety with greater market availability.”

But Rouse argued that the current ban on retail sales encourages people to turn to dealers selling products of unknown potency, which have a chance of being laced with other substances. Complexities in enforcement also allow for a thriving “gray market” of informal sales in which unauthorized cannabis proliferates.

“This was an opportunity to really drive that market away and really put in a safer market,” the state senator said.

Trent Woloveck, chief strategy director at the marijuana cultivator and seller Jushi, estimated that retail sales would generate between $250 million and $300 million in Virginia tax revenue each year. (Casey’s estimate was more conservative, at around $185 million per year.)

Authorized distributors track potency down to the gram and can easily trace all of their products back to their source. Virginia’s medical marijuana dispensaries, Woloveck said, currently help to “counteract” the illicit drug market and “bring real product to bear.”

Rouse pledged to continue advocating for recreational marijuana for as long as it takes.

“The might must go on, and I’m looking forward to continuing that effort,” he said.

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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin in Tysons in 2022 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Two key pieces of legislation backed by one of Arlington’s state senators got the ax in Richmond last week.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) on Thursday vetoed bills that would have legalized the sale of retail marijuana in Virginia and raised the state’s minimum wage. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), who represents part of Arlington and Fairfax County as well as Alexandria, co-sponsored both bills.

He told ARLnow that he is “disappointed but not surprised” and sees no reason to believe Youngkin will change his mind in future years.

“We need a Democratic governor to sign these bills,” the senator said.

The minimum wage bill would have boosted Virginia’s minimum wage from $12 an hour to $15 an hour by 2026. Youngkin argued in a veto statement that striking down the increase protects small businesses in parts of Virginia outside of the D.C. suburbs.

“The free market for salaries and wages works,” the governor said. “It operates dynamically, responding to the nuances of varying economic conditions and regional differences. This wage mandate imperils market freedom and economic competitiveness.”

A minimum wage increase “may not impact Northern Virginia, where economic conditions create a higher cost of living,” Youngkin added.

Sens. Jennifer Boysko and Saddam Salim, who represent parts of Fairfax County, were among several Democrats to throw their weight behind this bill in addition to Ebbin. They called Youngkin’s veto a loss for lower-income people everywhere in the state.

“I find Governor Youngkin’s decision to veto the minimum wage increase deeply disappointing and detrimental to the well-being of workers and struggling families across Virginia,” said Salim, who also represents Fairfax City and Falls Church. “Our current minimum wage is not a living wage, particularly here in Northern Virginia.”

Boysko, for her part, blamed Virginia’s workforce shortage on low wages. She argued that the current minimum wage forces many people to “scrounge for benefits” from the state and nonprofits.

“Many businesses are not paying a living wage,” Boysko said. “If employers cannot figure out how they would live on what they pay their employees, we have an economic problem and a moral problem.”

As for the marijuana bill, Youngkin pointed to adverse health effects associated with the substance. He argued that cannabis should have at least as many protections as drugs such as opioids.

“Attempting to rectify the error of decriminalizing marijuana by establishing a safe and regulated marketplace is an unachievable goal,” he said. “The more prudent approach would be to revisit the issue of discrepancies in enforcement, not compounding the risks and endangering Virginians’ health and safety with greater market availability.”

Ebbin and Sen. Aaron Rouse (D), who introduced the cannabis legislation, are among several panelists scheduled to speak at an Arlington Committee of 100 program on Wednesday, April 10 about the future of marijuana in Arlington. Rouse said the Virginia General Assembly “meticulously crafted” the cannabis bill over three years with safety in mind.

“This veto blocks a pivotal opportunity to advance public health, safety, and justice in our Commonwealth,” Rouse said in a press release. “By dismissing this legislation, the Governor is ignoring the will of the people and the extensive efforts of lawmakers to bring about a responsible and regulated approach to cannabis.”

Ebbin argued that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and that preventing its legal sale only encourages people to turn to illegal sources.

“It’s an adult choice that some adults make, and we don’t need a black market,” he said.

Ebbin said both of Youngkin’s vetoes are out of touch with modern life.

“The governor doesn’t seem to recognize the realities of people living in the 21st century,” he said.

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Multifamily units in Fairlington Villages (via Google Maps)

A condo association in Shirlington rolled out tips both smoking and non-smoking homes can implement to prevent the spread of stray smoke.

One suggestion, targeted to marijuana users, is blunt: consider switching to edibles.

Confronted with mounting complaints from residents about smoke from neighbors infiltrating their homes, management for Fairlington Villages reminded smoking residents to be mindful of their neighbors.

The issue is most acute within multifamily buildings in the community, which consists of townhomes and apartments in 2-4 story buildings around S. Abingdon Street in the Shirlington neighborhood. General Manager Gregory Roby told ARLnow his office gets complaints from tenants roughly once a month about tobacco and marijuana smoke drifting from one unit to another.

“This problem was on the decrease, corresponding to the decreasing number of people smoking tobacco products, but has started to turn around with the legalization and ready availability of marijuana,” he said.

On its website and on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, management suggested different tips for smokers and non-smokers to smoke-proof their homes.

In the thread, Fairlington Villages thanked residents in advance for any steps they take to mitigate the negative effects of smoking. While cigarette smokers have to find ways to keep the smoke in, or purify what does escape, the message notes marijuana users can talk to a doctor about switching to edibles.

People need a doctor’s note to get medical marijuana from a dispensary. Arlington’s first medical dispensary opened earlier this year — about a year and a half after Virginia legalized marijuana possession. State efforts to build up an industry around the plant have stalled.

Roby attributes the issue of smoke transferring among units to the age of Fairlington Villages, built more than 75 years ago. He said the walls have large gaps behind cabinets and appliances, as well as open spaces between units, through which smoke pass and even seep into common stairwells.

“Sealing these openings, as well as common-wall outlets, etc., can help decrease unit-to-unit transference,” he noted. “Creating negative pressure in the unit, either by opening a window (depending upon outside pressure) or turning on exhaust fans, helps draw fresh air into the stairwells and units, minimizing the possibility of unit-to-hallway transfer.”

Previously, the condo association has dealt with wilder forms of infiltration, once by a mangy fox and another time by hungry racoons.

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Amid community pressure, Arlington County is taking a closer look at ways to improve safety in Green Valley.

Some residents are pushing for more action from the county on two fronts: dealing with nuisances and more actively policing criminal activity. In response to the mounting concerns, an internal county workgroup is beginning to meet this week to find ways to do just that.

The nuisances are related to drinking and smoking as well as public urination and loud music associated with some of the people who hang out around the John Robinson, Jr. Town Square, neighbors tell ARLnow. The criminal issues relate to gun violence, which some neighbors tie to the unaddressed open-air substance use.

Throughout the day, people can be seen hanging out in the area. Yesterday (Tuesday), for instance, ARLnow observed a handful of people sitting in folding chairs outside of The Shelton, an affordable housing building, while two other groups were congregated in the town square, talking and listening to music.

Neighbors, including Yordanos Woldai, say they don’t have an issue with people hanging out. They just want people not to drink alcohol or smoke marijuana outdoors, urinate in public or play music during quiet hours.

“Having lived in Arlington for such a long time, I am not aware of any other residential neighborhood where this conduct is allowed to happen in plain sight and not be addressed by the police,” Woldai tells ARLnow. “Children have to walk on the streets at times because there is no way to pass and there are broken beer bottles on sidewalks and grass.”

A few of the people hanging out told ARLnow that nearly everyone on the square yesterday likely came from outside Green Valley to this area to be together. Many grew up in the neighborhood but have since moved away.

One man, who appeared to be drinking beer from a plastic cup, put his hand out close to the ground and raised it up slowly to show how much of early childhood, marked in growth spurts, he spent in the neighborhood.

“They feel they are very much part of the community,” Woldai said. “I love the idea that people come to Green Valley to connect with old friends… It’s the illegal activities that are bothersome.”

Woldai addressed the Arlington County Board on Saturday about her concerns and said she had the support of 37 neighbors. This includes Lily Bozhanova, a Bulgarian immigrant who has lived in the area for five years with her family.

“My children are 5 and 7-year-olds. We often go to the spray park there and I sometimes have to explain to my children why they see people smoke or drink plein air. It’s not good but they see it every day and it’s a deterrent for going in the area,” she told ARLnow.

Bozhanova says she tries to avoid the area in the evening and lately Googled whether bullets can pass through brick.

“I shouldn’t be looking up to see whether my house can sustain gunshots. Brick is relatively safe, by the way,” she said.

Although she is grateful for the life she has built, she says, “it’s not exactly the American Dream we were trying to achieve moving here.”

Frank Duncan, a longtime resident of The Shelton (3215 24th Street S.) said he was shot last summer. A relative was also shot not long after.

“That’s the story about the life we live here,” he said.

Still, he said he cannot move away because it will be hard to find space in another low-income apartment building. He says he does what he can to promote safety in part by volunteering as a crossing guard for Drew Elementary School students.

Woldai ties the shootings to the nuisance issues.

“When people know there isn’t really a police presence in a neighborhood where you can drink and smoke marijuana, it attracts more serious crimes,” she said. “That has been a serious concern for residents living near the town square.”

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Arlington’s first medical cannabis dispensary is set to open tomorrow in Clarendon.

Beyond/Hello is set to open the county’s inaugural cannabis dispensary on Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 2701 Wilson Blvd. The 6,820 square-foot shop with 37 parking spots is located across the street from Whole Foods and next to neighborhood staple Galaxy Hut.

There will be an official ribbon-cutting ceremony this Friday, a company spokesperson told ARLnow.

Beyond/Hello is owned by Florida-based Jushi, which owns nearly 40 dispensaries across a number of different states. This will be Beyond/Hello’s fifth Northern Virginia dispensary, including two Fairfax County locations. The shops on Richmond Highway and near George Mason University both opened last year.

ARLnow first reported a cannabis dispensary was coming to Clarendon back in July. It was initially supposed to open by the end of the year, but that got pushed back by a few weeks due to waiting on county inspections.

It’s moving into a building that Jushi bought for $7 million in late 2021, which formerly housed a Comcast service center. Arlington Independent Media (AIM), which operates radio station WERA 96.7 FM, occupies the other part of the building. Jushi has promised to allow AIM to remain in the building even as expands to a second location in Green Valley.

Metro access, a central location, and a “bustling” neighborhood are among the reasons that Beyond/Hello chose this location for its next Northern Virginia dispensary.

“Just a five-minute walk from the Clarendon Metro Station, Beyond Hello Arlington is located in a bustling part of the city, where patients can easily check out historical sites, hit the town to grab a bite, catch some live music or check out a theatrical performance,” Jushi CEO Jim Cacioppo said in a press release. “This new retail location has ample comfortable seating throughout the store along with standardized tested products for patients. We look forward to continuing to be a good business and community partner in the Commonwealth as well as delivering a retail experience exceeding expectations.”

The presence of parking was also a factor. A company official told ARLnow last summer that most of the other buildings that ownership looked at in Arlington had “zero dedicated parking spots,” while this one had about 40.

The Clarendon location is a big part of Beyond/Hello’s Northern Virginia expansion. The company is one of only four allowed to sell medical cannabis in Virginia and, by law, can only open six stores in the Commonwealth.

Beyond/Hello currently has five dispensaries in the area, with a sixth opening in Woodbridge later this year.

Last summer, a state law went into effect that removed the requirement for medical cannabis patients to register with the Commonwealth in order to purchase cannabis. Now, all patients need is a written certification for a licensed practitioner.

It’s believed that this relaxing of requirements will lead to an increase in medical cannabis sales.

While it’s legal for those over 21 to grow and possess small amounts of cannabis, non-medicinal retail sales remain illegal following last year’s failed legislative efforts. The Virginia General Assembly is likely to consider bills at its upcoming session that could set the stage for legal retail sales of cannabis by this time next year.

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Future Beyond/Hello medical cannabis dispensary in Clarendon (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A new medical cannabis dispensary coming to Clarendon is delaying its opening to early next year.

Beyond/Hello is hoping to open Arlington’s first medical cannabis dispensary — and its fifth in Northern Virginia — in the “first half of January,” though that depends on county inspections, a spokesperson told ARLnow.

The dispensary at 2701 Wilson Blvd was initially slated to open its doors prior to the end of the year, but that has been slightly delayed.

Florida-based Jushi, which owns Beyond/Hello, bought the building at 2701 Wilson Blvd, across the street from Whole Foods, for $7 million about a year ago. Jushi chose that location because of its central location and 45 dedicated parking spots, an executive told ARLnow over the summer.

The dispensary is moving a space that was formerly a Comcast service center. Another part of the building is occupied by Arlington Independent Media (AIM), which operates radio station WERA 96.7 FM.

The plan is to allow AIM to remain in the building, even as it expands to a satellite location in Green Valley.

Over the last two years, Beyond/Hello has opened locations in Fairfax, Alexandria, Manassas, and Sterling. Another location is coming to Woodbridge sometime next year.

Beyond/Hello is one of four companies allowed to sell medical cannabis in Virginia but is legally limited to opening six stores in the Commonwealth.

This past July, a new state law went into effect that removed the requirement that medical cannabis patients had to register with the Commonwealth in order to purchase cannabis. Now all patients need is a written certification from a licensed practitioner.

It’s legal for those over 21 in Virginia to possess and grow small amounts of cannabis. But recreational sales are still illegal due to the failure of a legislative effort this past year to create infrastructure for retail sales.

For now, retail sales of cannabis are expected to remain illegal in Virginia until 2024 at the earliest.

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The first medical cannabis dispensary in Arlington is set to open in Clarendon by the end of the year, coming as state restrictions loosen for medical cannabis.

Beyond/Hello, one of four companies allowed to sell cannabis in Virginia, is opening a dispensary along Clarendon’s main drag of Wilson Blvd. The plan is to open by the end of the year, pending approval from the Virginia Board of Pharmacy, Chief Commercial Director Trent Woloveck told ARLnow.

The company, which is owned by Florida-based Jushi, bought the building at 2701 Wilson Blvd in late 2021, which is located across the street from Whole Foods as well as the parking lot that may be turned into a new development called “Courthouse West“.

The dispensary will move into the space that was formerly a Comcast service center. Construction is in its early stages, Wolveck said, starting with cleaning up the shell of the building.

Arlington Independent Media also occupies space in the building, operating FM station WERA 96.7. Wolveck said the plan is to allow AIM to stay both during and after construction.

This Wilson Blvd building was specifically chosen because of its central location and dedicated parking spots.

“Most properties we looked at in Arlington had zero dedicated parking spaces — this property provides 45,” said Wolveck. “It is also well positioned across the street from a high grossing Whole Foods and in the heart of the Clarendon restaurant and nightlife scene.”

The Clarendon location is part of Beyond/Hello’s larger Northern Virginia expansion. The company already has two dispensaries open in Manassas and Sterling. Two locations in Fairfax County are both set to open this summer, as FFXnow reports, while a Woodbridge one is aiming for early next year. Legally, the company is allowed to operate six dispensaries in Virginia.

All of this is coming on the heels of the state making it easier for patients to obtain medical cannabis. On July 1, a new state law went into effect removing the requirement that patients had to register with the Commonwealth in order to purchase medical cannabis. Now, patients simply need written certification from a licensed practitioner.

Despite partisan rancor on other state issues, the bill had overwhelming bipartisan support.

This loosening of regulations is expected to accelerate Virginia’s medical cannabis industry. Prior to the law going into effect, only about 0.5% of Virginia’s 8.6 million residents were registered medical cannabis patients. Meanwhile, Maryland is at 2.5% and the national average is 2%.

While it is now legal for adults to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana in Virginia, recreational sales remain illegal. A legislative effort to create infrastructure for retail sales and make it legal this year failed in the General Assembly several months ago.

For now, general retail cannabis sales won’t be allowed in Virginia until Jan. 1, 2024.

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Marijuana (Photo by Rick Proctor on Unsplash)

Virginians are going to have to wait until next year to see any further movement on cannabis regulation and legalization of retail sales.

A bill — SB 591 — that would have regulated cannabis products shapes, banned Delta-8, increased penalties for possessing more than the legal limit, and reclassified many CBD products as marijuana was effectively killed in the Virginia Senate yesterday (April 27) with a bipartisan vote.

It was close to a year ago that marijuana first became legal in the Commonwealth. At the forefront of this push was Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-39), who represents a portion of Arlington.

While the achievement was celebrated by advocates, there remains much to be figured out. Notably, there’s still no legal retail market and regulation remains incomplete.

One bill that would have contributed to regulating marijuana products was SB 591. When it was first introduced back in January, it initially only dealt with the sale of cannabis products in shapes that could appeal to children — like candy, fruit, or animals. Despite it being introduced by a Republican, Ebbin and other local Democrats initially supported it.

“It was the right thing to do,” Ebbin tells ARLnow.

But a series of amendments from Governor Glenn Youngkin significantly altered the bill, adding in provisions about CBD products, Delta-8, and making possession over the legal limit a crime rather than a civil infraction.

“The governor’s amendments were ill-constructed, poorly thought out, and left lots of loopholes,” Ebbin says. “The original bill was better.”

The state Senator says the modified legislation “left a door open” for production of other synthetic marijuana products besides Delta-8, allowed for the removal of THC limits on packaging, and re-criminalized possession of over an ounce.

“The government’s proposed penalties for personal possession of two ounces of marijuana were more punitive than the laws that were in place prior to Virginia’s enactment of decriminalization in 2020,” Ebbin says.

SB 591 had a bit of a unique journey. The original bill, introduced by a Republican, was passed unanimously in the Senate and with very limited opposition in the House of Delegates. It was then sent to Governor Youngkin’s desk, who changed it by adding those amendments.

It was, then, sent back to the Senate yesterday for a vote where it was deadlocked with 20 yeas and 20 nays. However, Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears (R) broke the tie, essentially going against the Governor from her own party.

With the bill being referred back to the committee, both the Governor’s amendments and the original bill are dead and any related legislation will have to wait until at least next year to be considered again for enactment.

Well, it’s disappointing,” says Ebbin. “People need to be aware of what they are buying.”

This is the second time in just the last couple of months that a bill aimed at creating infrastructure for a legal cannabis retail market in Virginia was voted down.

Ebbin’s own SB 391 would have allowed existing medical dispensaries to start selling retail cannabis starting in September. While it passed the Democratic-controlled Senate, the Republican-controlled House of Delegates pushed the decision until next year.

For the moment, the Cannabis Oversight Commission — for which Ebbin is Chair — will continue to review the two bills with the hope that a consensus can be built with how best to move forward on marijuana legislation in Virginia next year.

While Ebbin remains hopeful that 2023 will bring cannabis retail sales and further market regulation, he’s a bit skeptical.

“I’ve learned not to be overly optimistic in this field,” he says. “This is a product that’s now legal for adults 21 and older. So, it’s in our best interest to make sure this is a tested, regulated product.”

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Morning Notes

Rosslyn (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

No Mardi Gras Parade Today — Clarendon will not be hosting a Mardi Gras parade this year. What was formerly an annual tradition remains on hold, perhaps permanently. The last parade was held in 2018.

Retail Rents Rising on the Pike — “Arlington economic-development officials say they will assist where possible, but in many cases, small-business owners wishing to stay in the corridor will have to do the hunting on their own… The arrival of Amazon not far down the road in the Pentagon City area is just one factor that is impacting rents in the Columbia Pike corridor, once known as a low-cost alternative to Arlington’s Metro corridors.” [Sun Gazette]

Affordable Housing Buy Nearby — “A 14-story Arlandria apartment complex has been acquired by the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, the latest move in an effort to preserve affordable housing in an area facing significant development pressure. AHDC recently announced that it bought the Park Vue of Alexandria apartments from Florida-based ZRS Management with support of $51.4 million from the $2 billion Amazon Housing Equity Fund.” [ALXnow, Twitter]

Va. Weed Bill Goes Up in Smoke — “Republican members of Virginia’s House of Delegates on Monday voted down a bill that would have permitted legal sales of marijuana later this year, delaying any movement on the issue until at least mid- or late-2023 — if not even later than that. The party-line 5-3 vote in the House’s General Laws Subcommittee dashed the hopes of many Democrats and marijuana legalization advocates.” [DCist]

It’s Fat Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day today, the first day of March and the last day before Lent. High of 57 and low of 32. Sunrise at 6:42 am and sunset at 6:02 pm. [Weather.gov]

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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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