Virginia lawmakers signed off on amendments that make the possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana and homegrown plants legal in the state in July as opposed to 2024.
“On July 1, 2021, dreams come true,” Marijuana Justice stated in a tweet.
The group has worked to legalize the use and possession of marijuana for the past two years but said more work must be done.
Gov. Ralph Northam proposed changes to House Bill 2312 and Senate Bill 1406, which passed earlier this year during the Virginia General Assembly’s special session. The House and Senate approved the changes Wednesday. The bills legalized marijuana possession and sales by Jan. 1, 2024, but marijuana legalization advocates and Democratic lawmakers lobbied to push up the date for recreational possession.
Adults 21 years of age or older will be able to legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana if they don’t intend to distribute the substance. Marijuana cannot be used in public or while driving, lawmakers said. Virginia decriminalized marijuana last year and reduced possession penalties to a $25 civil penalty and no jail time for amounts up to an ounce. In the past, possessing up to half an ounce could lead to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.
Individuals can also cultivate up to four cannabis plants without legal repercussion beginning July 1, with punishments ranging from misdemeanors to jail time if over the limit. The plants would need to be labeled with identification information, out of sight from public view, and out of range of people under the age of 21. Marijuana retail sales still do not begin until 2024.
The amendments passed along party lines in both chambers. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat, cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. Two Senate Republicans last week stated their support of the amendments but voted no Wednesday. Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, voted no. The vote was 53-44 in the House, with two abstentions. Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, voted no. Del. Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, did not vote.
“This is a historic milestone for racial justice and civil rights, following years of campaigning from advocates and community groups and a strong push by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus,” Marijuana Justice stated in a press release when the amendments were announced.
Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of Marijuana Justice, said last week that legalizing simple marijuana possession now rather than later is important for racial justice.
“Waiting until 2024 to legalize simple possession and therefore stop the desperate policing is allowing this continued bias enforcement against Black Virginians to continue for three years,” Wise said.
Accelerating the legislative timeline was key, said Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, one of more than two dozen legislators who co-sponsored the House bill.
“The figures show that it is much more common for a Black or Brown person to be charged with possession,” Kory said.
A state study released last year found that from 2010 to 2019 the average arrest rate of Black Virginians for marijuana possession was more than three times higher than that of white residents for the same crime—6.3 per 1,000 Black individuals and 1.8 per white people. This is despite the fact that Black Virginians use marijuana at similar rates as white residents. The conviction rate was also higher for Black individuals. Northam stated that people of color were still disproportionately cited for possession even after marijuana was decriminalized.
The legislation establishes the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority as the regulatory structure for the manufacture and retail sale of marijuana and marijuana products.
The governor’s amendments called for the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority to revoke a company’s business license if it interfered with union organizing efforts; failed to pay a prevailing wage as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor, or classified more than 10% of employees as independent contractors. This part garnered heavy opposition. The amendments are the first attempt to dismantle the commonwealth’s right-to-work laws, Republicans said. However, lawmakers pointed out that several provisions of the bill are subject to the reenactment in the 2022 General Assembly session.
Northam’s amendments called for public health education. The amendments will fund a public awareness campaign on the health and safety risks of marijuana. Law enforcement officers will be trained to recognize and prevent drugged driving with the latest amendments. Legislators approved budget amendments to help fund the initiatives.
Legislators spoke in favor of the governor’s educational campaign. Others worried about an increase in drugged driving. Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, said that law enforcement will not have time to prepare how to identify drugged driving. He cited a study that found 70% of marijuana users surveyed in Colorado said they drive while under the influence of marijuana.
“I think this is another time when we are putting political expediency, political agenda over what is right for the safety and security of our citizens,” DeSteph said.
Northam’s amendments allow for certain marijuana-related criminal records to be expunged and sealed “as soon as state agencies are able” and to “simplify the criteria” for when records can be sealed. The expungement of marijuana-related crimes was originally set for July 1, 2025.
The law will also allow individuals convicted of marijuana offenses to have a hearing before the court that originally sentenced them, Virginia NORML, a group that seeks to reform the state’s marijuana laws, stated in a post. That portion of the bill must be reenacted in 2022, the organization stated.
“We are sending a message to our kids that it is okay to do drugs in Virginia now,” said Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield. “As a mom of four young adults, I don’t like that message. I think it is selfish. I think it is reckless, and I think it is irresponsible.”
Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, said later that “the kids are already smoking marijuana.” She called it “a non-starter of an argument against the bill.”
Howell, a parent of two, spoke in favor of passing the bill.
“If we have to wait another three years, I will be in my 80s before I can do legally what I was doing illegally in my 20s.”
By Sam Fowler
Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.
Town officials praise Energy Services staff for restoring power during Saturday’s storm
The aftermath of Hurricane Ian, which brought strong winds and heavy rain to the commonwealth, wreaked havoc on some Front Royal residents over the weekend.
Mary Ellen Lynn, Interim Director of Energy Services, said Monday that about 1,500 homes and businesses experienced a loss of power twice on Saturday, Oct. 1, following two large power outages after the Sprint Substation lost its power supply.
Residents in the Kendrick area and the south side of town experienced a complete loss of power at approximately 3:30 am and then again at 10:15 pm.
Town crews quickly assessed that there were transmission line issues running through Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s territory that fed into the substation. Through unfavorable weather conditions, crews worked tirelessly to conduct load-switching and restore power as safely and quickly as possible.
All customers had power restored within three hours, 22 minutes, during the first outage and within four hours, 21 minutes, during the second.
Officials expressed gratitude to the Town Energy Services team, dispatch officers, the Front Royal Police Department (FRPD), and the linemen, who worked to restore power and keep the community safe during the storm.
In a media release Monday, Lynn stated that the Energy Services Department strives to keep the community as updated as possible in real-time but emphasized that the safety of crews comes first.
“There may be delays in updates when these rare, large-scale events occur, but know that our goal is to always keep your lights on and power outages to a minimum. We assure you that if there’s a lag in communication, it’s simply because we are diligently working to address the issue,” Lynn said.
Interim Town Manager Kathleen Leidich praised the team Monday, stating, “I would like to commend our Line Crew for their hard work and dedication through the cold, wet & dangerous conditions they had to face.”
To report an outage during business hours, contact the department at 540-635-3027. For after-hours outages, call the non-emergency number of the FRPD, 540-635-2111.
Winchester City Manager appoints new Police Chief
Winchester City Manager Dan Hoffman has selected Deputy Chief Amanda Behan as Winchester’s new and first female Police Chief in the department’s 200-year history. DC Behan has been a dedicated member of the Winchester Police Department for over 20 years, climbing the ranks from recruit in 2001 to Deputy Chief in 2021.
“Amanda has been a part of the Winchester community and police department as a public servant, volunteer, mentor, change agent, role model, and leader. Her skills and qualifications are widely known, and she has my full faith and confidence in this new role of protecting the safety and wellbeing of our officers, staff, and city,” stated Mr. Hoffman.
DC Behan has a master’s degree in Executive Leadership from Liberty University, and throughout her career with the Winchester Police Department, she has served many roles. Her accomplishments include implementing officer fitness standards, significantly expanding community outreach activities, redeveloping departmental policies, and acquiring the department’s first therapy canine.
“I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and want to thank my husband, children, and everyone who has supported me throughout this journey,” DC Behan said. “It is my passion for our community and the men and women who protect and serve it gives me this great honor to lead the Winchester Police Department. I will have an outstanding team and look forward to our future together.
In a recent administrative reorganization, the Police Chief vacancy was created when Chief John Piper was promoted to Deputy City Manager, overseeing all public safety divisions. DC Behan’s swearing-in ceremony will occur on October 21 at 2 pm during the Department’s scheduled promotion ceremony at the Jim Barnett Park Rec Center.
Valley Health confronts lingering challenges of COVID-19
Like health systems nationwide, Valley Health is facing financial challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. While social restrictions have eased considerably, and serious illness and death rates are down, the lasting impacts are still significant in the region’s nonprofit health system.
“I’m so proud of our team for their extraordinary dedication to care for the community and each other during this public health crisis,” said Valley Health President and CEO Mark Nantz. “We’ve truly lived our values of compassion, integrity, collaboration, courage, innovation, and excellence and have been a steadfast health resource for our region. Despite our best efforts, however, we face unprecedented financial challenges as the effects and aftereffects of the pandemic continue to take their toll. Since 2020, Valley Health has seen an overall drop in health care utilization, sicker patients due to deferred care, staffing shortages, and higher costs of goods and services.”
Recent reports from the American Hospital Association (AHA) examine the intense financial pressures facing hospitals and health systems:
• One study predicts losses in the billions of dollars this year for U.S. hospitals, with margins at least one-third lower than pre-pandemic levels and more than half of the nation’s hospitals operating in the red.
• A record number of rural hospitals closed their doors in 2020; those remaining face unique financial and workforce pressures moving forward.
• Deferred care during the pandemic has led to increased patient acuity in America’s hospitals, which means hospitalized patients are sicker and more costly to treat.
• In an April report, the AHA looked at increased costs driven by a spike in labor costs of about 20% over the last two years.
Left unaddressed, these financial challenges can jeopardize patients’ access to essential health care services. “Valley Health is not in danger of closing its doors,” Nantz said. “But the pandemic and its aftereffects have continued to create financial challenges for our organization.”
Like every health system across the nation, Valley Health experienced high turnover rates among a COVID-weary staff and national nursing shortages, leaving more than 800 open positions across the organization and driving labor costs to an all-time high.
Valley Health has secured $126 million to address its financial challenges through assistance programs such as the federal CARES Act, the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Were it not for that assistance over the last two and a half years, Valley Health would have experienced operating losses in excess of $100 million.
“COVID-19 forced us to curtail or temporarily discontinue many of the services we budget and staff for across our system,” explained Nantz. “Federal funds helped partially offset revenue loss associated with the pandemic and increased overhead costs due to supply chain issues and skyrocketing costs of supplemental staff. But that support has dried up, and we have not yet returned to our pre-pandemic levels of diagnostic testing, wellness care and screenings, and elective surgeries.”
With no prospects for further government assistance, the health system has been taking steps, including:
1. Investing in training, retaining the best healthcare workforce, and decreasing reliance on agency staff.
2. Assuring health insurers are paying fairly, with rate increases that reflect the rising cost of care, especially as insurance companies experience record profits while healthcare systems are experiencing record losses. Valley Health cannot do business with organizations that will not compensate fairly for services provided.
3. Reviewing and evaluating all Valley Health programs and services to ensure the best stewardship of community healthcare dollars and deploying caregivers to the most necessary roles.
“We are methodically assessing all parts of our organization, re-evaluating how, where and when we provide services, and exploring new ways to deploy our staffing so that we can continue to be our region’s care provider and employer of choice well into the future,” said Nantz.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for October 3 – 7, 2022
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.
*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.
No lane closures were reported.
No lane closures were reported.
Route 55 (John Marshall Highway) – Flagger traffic control between Front Royal town limits and Route 79 (Apple Mountain Road) for tree removal operations, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Friday.
No lane closures were reported.
Missing and endangered person, located by FCSO Bloodhound ‘Bleu”
On September 30, 2022, Deputies responded to the area of Norwich Court in Stephens City for a missing person. A son had reported that his mother, age 74, had left their residence while he was on a Zoom call for his work. The son told the Deputies that his mother was not very mobile and didn’t think she could walk far from the residence. Deputies checked the residence to ensure she was not hiding in the residence, as some people have a tendency to do when having mental health issues.
The missing lady and her son had visited a nursing facility the previous day for the mother and had plans to visit another facility that day. The mother suffers from severe depression and anxiety.
A neighbor who lived on Hayvenhurst Drive, Stephens City, stated that “she saw an elderly woman earlier, walking towards Town Run Lane like she was on a mission.”
Deputy Dan Clark and Frederick County Bloodhound “Bleu” checked out the area of Town Run Lane where Bleu located the lady lying in a brushy thicket in the 400 block of Town Run Lane. The woman had taken numerous prescription medications to do bodily harm to herself. Stephens City Fire and Rescue transported the victim to the Winchester Medical Center for treatment.
It is believed that without Bloodhound Bleu’s assistance in locating this victim when he did, the outcome would have been considerably different.
According to Sheriff Lenny Millholland, if any residents of Frederick County have family members with Dementia, Alzheimer’s, or a medical condition that causes them to wander or get away from care, they can contact the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. Information can be provided about Project Lifesaver and what can be done to help the families.
K-9 Frederick’s Copper “Bleu” Tracker-BLEU is a Bloodhound. His duties include tracking/trailing bad guys and locating missing people, whether children or the elderly and mental patients who walk off or run away on foot.
Bleu serves the citizens of Frederick County, Virginia, and any other jurisdictions that request his services.
Education quality and positive learning enviroment improve in Warren County Public Schools
Last week, the Virginia Department of Education released the 2022 accreditation ratings and school quality indicator data. Seven schools were accredited, and two schools—E. Wilson Morrison Elementary and Skyline Middle—were accredited with conditions.
Dr. Chris Ballenger, Superintendent of Warren County Public Schools, would like to recognize its teachers, staff, and administrators for their dedication to providing students with quality education and a positive learning environment throughout the 2021-2022 school year.
The impact of the pandemic on student learning remains apparent. However, one thing is certain, teachers and administrators have worked hard, which was reflected in the growth seen in last year’s Standards of Learning data. Teachers’ commitment to identify learning gaps and implement lessons to help close those gaps was a big ask, and teachers delivered. The support provided to improve achievement and create a positive learning environment was especially important given the changes to the instructional environment students experienced due to the pandemic. The 2021-2022 school year marked the return to full-time instruction for all K-12 students since March 2020.
The data released by the VDOE reflects that Warren County students improved in reading, mathematics, and science compared to the 2020-2021 data. The work to meet state accountability indicators and ensure students are performing at grade-level proficiency continues this school year. Teachers and staff engage in professional development, implement evidence-based practices in their classrooms, and focus on student learning outcomes.
Warren County Public Schools has a tremendous staff, and as a community, we should be grateful to have such dedicated educators working with students daily.
Virginia’s School Quality Profiles provide information about student achievement, college and career readiness, program completion, school safety, teacher quality, and other topics of interest to parents and the general public. Please visit the VDOE’s School Quality Profile website for more information on school accreditation ratings and quality indicator data.
- A.S. Rhodes Elementary –ACCREDITED
- E. Wilson Morrison Elementary – ACCREDITED WITH CONDITIONS
- Hilda J. Barbour Elementary – ACCREDITED
- Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary – ACCREDITED
- Ressie Jeffries Elementary – ACCREDITED
- Skyline High – ACCREDITED
- Skyline Middle – ACCREDITED WITH CONDITIONS
- Warren County High – ACCREDITED
- Warren County Middle – ACCREDITED