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.
New Warren Memorial Hospital ‘95% complete’ – transfer from North Shenandoah Ave. due in June
In a “Zoom” talk before the Rotary Club of Front Royal April 16, Warren Memorial Hospital Board Chairman Floyd Heater reported construction of the new $100-million hospital on Leach Run Parkway “95% complete” and a ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for June 8.
Several other community open houses, among those for employees and donors, will be scheduled before and after patients are admitted June 23. By then, hospital departments will be in place (June 16) The emergency department will be operational June 23.
Already complete and awaiting Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspection on the 150-acre site is a helipad, most welcomed by employees of the old hospital site where a stamp-sized parking lot was used for air evacuations. Calling the helipad a “great enhancement,” Heater further remarked, “There’ll be no more moving of cars every time (air evacuations) are necessitated,” with a nod to long-suffering staffers at the old hospital that has been operating at its North Shenandoah Avenue location more than 70 years.
Generally, the new $100 million complex is state of the art, while Heater singled out the three operating rooms he said would be “the envy of many other hospitals.” Also, he gave mentions to Front Royal Rotarian Fred Andreae and his family for their contributions to a 2.5 mile wellness and recreation trail on the property, and to members of the public who contributed more than $2.5 million to the Warren Memorial Hospital Foundation capital campaign, including some of the trail costs, a history wall and medical history display, plus a brick paver engraved with the names of brick-buying donors. The bricks will become part of an outdoor patio in the hospital’s courtyard.
Overall, space-wise, employees will have 52,000 more square feet to work in – 177,000 vs 125,000 square feet.
“Taking Health Care to New Heights” is the title of a Valley Health handout, available online, which describes the new hospital and all of its 21st century features.
Warren County/Skyline High School Senior Prom scheduled for May 22 at the Gazebo
The Senior Prom for 2021 will bring both senior classes together on Saturday, May 22, 2021, at the Gazebo in downtown Front Royal. A group of concerned parents got together and planned this event for this year’s graduating class.
The Senior Prom signifies one last unforgettable evening as High School Seniors, and with the ‘Old Hollywood’ theme, it will be an evening to remember. Formal wear is required, so get the gowns and tuxedos ready. It’s also a free event, but tickets are required. Go here to sign up.
Watch the video for all the details, and go to the Facebook group to stay updated.
Warren County School Board meets Wednesday to act on van purchases, ESY staff raises
The Warren County School Board during its Wednesday, April 21 meeting will consider requests by Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) to increase hourly pay rates for extended school year positions, purchase two vehicles, and approve the 2021-2022 local Perkins Career and Technical Education Plan.
The first of three action agenda items to be considered this week by the School Board is to approve a request by WCPS to increase the hourly pay rates for extended school year (ESY) positions, which provide services to qualified students with disabilities throughout the county. ESY student support generally occurs in the summer but is designed and planned to meet the individual needs of each student, according to the School Board’s agenda.
Due to this year’s short summer break, it has been increasingly difficult to secure staff, according to WCPS Director of Special Services Michael Hirsch, who will recommend increasing the hourly rates of the ESY administrator from $35 per hour to $45 per hour; the speech pathologist and physical and occupational specialists from $35 to $45 per hour; the ESY teachers from $25 an hour to $35 per hour; the Summer School and the ESY school nurse from $25 to $35 per hour; and the ESY instructional assistants from $10 to $15 per hour.
The second action agenda item for the School Board’s consideration is the 2021-2022 Local Plan for Career and Technical Education Perkins Funds, which provide WCPS with funds to support Career and Technical Programs and includes equipment, professional development, and student organization support. The funding is not to supplant but to enhance local funding, according to the agenda.
The last item slated for School Board action on April 21 is a WCPS request to purchase two used Dodge Caravans from G&M Auto Sales in Front Royal, Va., that will be used primarily for student transport in and out of Warren County. WCPS Transportation Director Aaron Mitchell will explain that WCPS seeks to maintain a quality, safe, and needs appropriate vehicle fleet, and the plan is for WCPS to trade in four vehicles for the two Caravans, according to the School Board’s agenda.
A work session is also scheduled during the School Board’s Wednesday meeting during which time Hirsch is scheduled to discuss required immunizations for WCPS students, and WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Melody Sheppard will provide a second reading and further discussion on the Virginia School Board Association’s School Board Policy Updates.
April 7 meeting summary
In highlights from the School Board’s April 7 meeting, Sheppard reported that the WCPS Food Services staff has prepared more than 900,000 meals for students since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In recognizing staff members for their hard work, Sheppard commented on the extraordinary job that both Food Services and transportation employees have done in preparing and delivering meals during this time.
She also presented Nickole Kinsey, WCPS Food Services general manager, with a plaque from the state in appreciation for the work that has been done to make sure students remained fed during the pandemic.
In his report to the School Board on April 7, WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger said that as of that date, there were 15 active student cases of COVID-19 and six staff cases. He said that the school division will continue to utilize the same mitigation guidelines it has been using.
Ballenger also reported that he has held initial conversations with both high schools and class representatives about upcoming graduations. The current plans call for Warren County High School’s graduation to be held in the stadium on Saturday, June 12 at 8 a.m., and for graduation at Skyline High School’s stadium to be held at 10 a.m. on the same day.
Students would be given four tickets with 10 feet of social distancing required between families, said Ballenger, noting that the plan is based on the current state and federal guidance and could be adjusted if that guidance changes between now and graduation.
In addition, Ballenger told School Board members that a proposal for a Linden, Va., bus stop is being reviewed by the Virginia Department of Transportation and an initial meeting with families has been held to review the plan.
The School Board also on April 7 adopted a resolution honoring Ballenger as a Virginia Superintendent of the Year for 2020-2021. The Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS) is honoring all 133 division superintendents throughout the state as Virginia superintendents of the year due to their extraordinary leadership during the 2020-2021 school year and their roles in serving their communities through the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the School Board’s April 7 meeting minutes.
VASS plans to recognize all the superintendents during its spring conference and asked that each school board in Virginia adopt a resolution recognizing their superintendent as a Virginia Superintendent of the Year for 2020-2021. The motion to adopt the resolution honoring Ballenger was made by School Board Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, seconded by board member Ralph Rinaldi, and carried by a 5-0 voice vote with School Board Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr., and members Kristen Pence, James Wells, Rinaldi, and Bower voting aye.
In other action on April 7, the School Board unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the School Board and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office for School Resource Officers (SROs) that was signed by the superintendent.
Current policy requires that the Warren County School Board and the Sheriff’s Office have an MOU that sets forth the powers and duties of the SROs. The MOU is reviewed and affirmed or amended at least once every two years and is modeled after the Virginia School-Law Enforcement Partnership Model MOU, Sheppard told School Board members.
The partnership between WCPS and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office is intended to facilitate effective, timely communication and coordination of efforts, and the MOU establishes a framework that both the schools and the Sheriff’s Office can work within to achieve shared goals toward creating and maintaining safe and secure school environments and to promote a positive and supportive school climate, according to the School Board’s agenda.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office will employ and provide WCPS with 10 law enforcement officers to serve as SROs who will assist with matters related to the safety and security of the schools. Sheppard pointed out that SROs also will help school administrators develop school crisis and response plans, as well as coordinate crime prevention and school safety, among other tasks.
The School Board also unanimously approved a request that WCPS enter an MOU with Shenandoah University to provide a reading specialist endorsement program within the school division and that the superintendent be authorized to sign the memorandum.
As part of the partnership, WCPS will provide a cohort with a minimum of 20 participants at the cost of $624 per student per course, to cover the cost difference should the cohort drop below 20 participants, and to secure a commitment from participants to complete the program.
Sheppard said that WCPS has 21 teachers and one instructional specialist who have signed commitment letters to complete the reading specialist endorsement program. For those seeking the add-on endorsement, they have committed to completing the program and remaining in the division for three years following their completion of the program, she said, adding that for those seeking a master’s degree as a reading specialist, they have committed to completing the program and remaining in the division for five years following their completion of the program. Should they fail to complete the program or not stay the agreed-upon three or five years, she said they are responsible to pay back all funds paid on their behalf.
For its part, Shenandoah University will provide the instructional delivery, invoice the school division based on the agreed-upon rate, and will waive all graduate application fees and offer direct admission for all cohort participants, Sheppard explained.
The MOU will remain in force for two years but can be terminated by either party given a 90-days written notice, she said, adding that courses will be paid for using a combination of Title I funds, tuition reimbursement funds, and local professional development funds.
In another unanimous approval, the School Board voted to award a $17,543.75 contract to Roanoke, Va.-based Time Technologies Inc. for the purchase and installation of a digital marquee sign at Skyline High School to replace the current manual one.
Skyline High School (SHS) Assistant Principal Jody Lee told School Board members that SHS administration recognizes “this is not a need but rather a want but feel that this will be an asset to SHS and the community to enhance notifications for the students, families, and surrounding community members.”
“We feel that due to COVID-19 impacts, being virtual has allowed us to spend less than normal and feel this opportunity will not come again without a long-term fundraiser,” Lee said, noting that the sign will be single-sided with an illuminated routed nameplate for the school’s name. SHS also wants to use a Cloud-based software program for the sign images and notices.
The project, which should take roughly two months from the date of a signed contract, is over the $15,000 threshold so SHS asked to use its School Board funds to pay for the sign due to the current availability of allocated funds.
The School Board also voted 5-0 to adopt the 2021-2022 Special Education Annual Plan, which includes an application for federal funding in the total amount of $1,241,840.
The board’s April 21 meeting starts at 5 p.m. and will be held at the Diversified Minds meeting room located at 465 W. 15th Street in Front Royal.
The Golden Throne: Fundraiser for Warren County Habitat for Humanity
You might see a golden toilet making its way around Front Royal through the end of April. This is a fundraiser for Warren County Habitat for Humanity (WCHFH). If you are lucky enough to find the Golden Throne in your yard, you can pay $10 to have it removed or $20 to have it removed and taken to a friend. To ensure that the toilet won’t return to your yard, you can purchase “Plumbing Insurance” for just $30. You may pre-purchase Plumbing Insurance if you’d like to support WCHFH, but would rather not have the honor of showing off the Golden Throne at your home or business.
You can “follow” the Golden Throne as it travels around our community. Follow WCHFH on Facebook.
For questions, removal, or to request toilet placement or insurance, contact Amanda Slate, WCHFH Board President, at Amanda.email@example.com or (540) 974-1827. For more information about Warren County Habitat for Humanity programs, contact Jessica Priest-Cahill, WCHFH Executive Director, at (540) 551-3232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founded locally in 1993, Warren County Habitat for Humanity seeks to build homes, community, and hope in Front Royal and Warren County. Habitat for Humanity homes are sold with no profit received. The homes are built utilizing volunteer labor, donated resources, and money from the community. Homeowners must meet three qualifications: willingness to partner; ability to pay; and have a need for decent, affordable, and safe housing. In addition to the Habitat Homeownership Program, WCHFH provides home repair programs for low-income homeowners, homeownership and home maintenance education, and advocacy for affordable home ownership. To learn more visit warrencountyhabitat.org.
Front Royal man charged for sexual solicitation of underage victims
On Wednesday, April 14, 2021, Front Royal Police detectives initiated an investigation regarding the solicitation of minors in the Warren County/Front Royal area. Detectives started a proactive approach to apprehend individuals soliciting underage victims for sexual purposes.
An undercover operation ensued, and an adult male began soliciting one of our detectives who he believed to be an underage female for photographs and sexually explicit material. The adult male suspect sent sexually explicit materials to the detective. The initial conversation was unsolicited and started by the offender in this case.
Police identified the suspect as 20-year-old Front Royal resident, Daniel Currence. Currence was arrested on 04/16/2021 and transported to the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail. Currence was ordered to be held on a $5,000 secured bond with a scheduled court date of May 20, 2021 at 9:00 a.m. in Warren County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
The Front Royal Police Department is an active member of the Northern Virginia/DC Metro (NOVA/DC) Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, which is coordinated by the Virginia State Police. We request anyone with information regarding the exploitation of a minor to contact Front Royal Police Detective M.R. Ramey at (540) 636-2208 or by email at email@example.com.
Virginia Beer Museum and Shae Parker celebrate in-house Aries birthdays
Due to a rash of owner-staff April birthdays over the past week, on Saturday, April 17, Shae Parker headlined an “Aries Birthday Celebration” at the Virginia Beer Museum in Historic Downtown Front Royal. Parker, also an April birthday, of the River Driven band performed three solo sets, 24 songs in all, of original material.
Parker, proprietor of Hanna Signs in town, also produced the event’s very late-1960’s psychedelic-era themed poster that may have led some of the “more mature” attendees into time-space continuum flashbacks to the glory days of the “English Invasion” and Haight Ashbury-centered classic rock & roll they grew up with.
So, Happy Birthday, David (April 14), Jeremy (April 17), Derek (April 19) and Shae (April 14), from this reporter (April 17).
And always remember, Aries, numero uno – the rest will always be followers of the Ram along the celestial path of the zodiac; and whose ruling planet, Mars, as of April 19, 2021, has the first man-made flying object hovering around the surface of another planet as mankind explores for signs of past or present life, and potential sites for future human exploration and colonization on the red planet.