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Virginia becomes first Southern state to bungle cannabis legalization, advocates say

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RICHMOND, Va. — The medical cannabis market is thriving in Virginia, while the future of recreational cannabis, including hemp, is hazier.

Cannabis advocates and smokers are disappointed after a 2022 General Assembly session that saw lawmakers fail to expedite recreational cannabis sales and propose penalties for possessing amounts over 2 pounds—despite lawmakers making it easier to get a medical cannabis card.

“I think as far as the customer’s perception of the legislation goes, people are kind of angry,” said Christopher Haynie, co-founder of Happy Trees Agricultural Supply, which sells equipment to grow cannabis.

Retail sales up in smoke
The Republican-led House of Delegates refused to pass a bipartisan Senate bill through a subcommittee that would have expedited retail sales of cannabis to September rather than waiting until the initially proposed 2024 date.


Since certain aspects of the 2021 bill were not reenacted, it is unlikely that the retail cannabis market will open in 2024 as originally planned.

Haynie said the company’s customers fear large corporations will primarily control the recreational cannabis market. Happy Trees works with small cannabis farms that want to join the retail market but fear license fees, restrictions and bigger farms will outprice small batch operations.

“There seems to be the pervasive attitude amongst our customers who stay informed about this stuff that Virginia is poised to turn over the recreational cannabis market to corporate candidates and not give the little guy a chance to really get in,” Haynie said.

Lobbyists influenced Virginia legislators into believing that it is safer for several large corporations to produce the products rather than having hundreds of small-batch operations, Happy Trees co-founder Josiah Ickes said.

“We have all these small breweries in Richmond,” Ickes said. “It would be kinda like if we said: ‘Oh, well look at all these small breweries, they need to go away because we don’t know if they’re creating safe beer.’”

People will continue growing their own cannabis or apply for medical cannabis patient cards since the General Assembly didn’t expedite retail sales, Haynie said.

Medical cannabis cards
Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently signed into law legislation that eliminates the requirement to register with the state Board of Pharmacy before being cleared to purchase medical cannabis products from approved sellers.

Del. Roxann L. Robinson, R-Chesterfield, introduced House Bill 933, which allows a patient to bypass obtaining a card from the Board of Pharmacy after getting a referral from a medical provider.

Pharmaceutical processors and cannabis dispensing facilities will update the Board each month with newly written certifications received by pharmaceutical processors or cannabis dispensing facilities, according to the bill.

The Board of Pharmacy issued 1,377 medical cannabis cards in 2019 after lawmakers approved the sale of low-dose THC oil. The following year, 7,135 cards were issued.

The number of cards issued grew to 33,340 in 2021, when the General Assembly approved the sale of cannabis flowers, or buds that are smoked, with a medical card. The Board has issued 10,055 cards as of early April. There are currently 6,000 pending applications, which fluctuate for various reasons according to Diane Powers, director of communications with the Virginia Department of
Health Professions.

Smokers say there are limitations
Richmond resident Brandy, who wished to be identified only by her first name because she is currently seeking employment, began smoking cannabis at age 15. Brandy, now 37, grows plants in her home. Citizens can grow up to four plants legally per household.

Brandy has a state-approved prescription for cannabis to treat anxiety and bipolar disorder but said she prefers growing cannabis as opposed to going to a dispensary because it’s cheaper. Health insurance does not cover medical cannabis.

“In Virginia, it really sucks,” Brandy said. “You go in and they have the little half-gram carts, and it’s $65.”

With a retail market still not established, Brandy said she prefers growing her own supply versus buying illegally from a dealer.

“This way I know exactly what goes in it,” Brandy said. “It’s all organic product, there aren’t chemicals in it.”

There are four state-licensed medical cannabis companies to serve five health districts in Virginia, and only those companies can open medical cannabis dispensaries in that district. Health District 1, which includes areas like Albemarle, Charlottesville, Culpeper, Fredericksburg, Stafford, and Staunton, does not currently have a licensed company.

Meanwhile, a Richmond resident has two locations within 16 miles to pick up prescription cannabis. There are currently 11 such dispensaries open throughout the state, according to cannabis legalization advocacy group Virginia NORML.

In addition to expensive products, some patients travel long distances to obtain medical cannabis.

“Another important factor about people, you know, not wanting to go medical, is patient access,” Haynie said. “During their day-to-day life they have to go out of their way, and it might be a day trip for some people.”

These are all reasons that Happy Trees reported a steady increase in customers since opening in 2020, Haynie said.

“One of the primary benefits to growing your own personal use plants is your ability to pick what’s best for you,” Haynie said. “Medical farms will be just like any other agricultural clients so they’re going to grow what’s best for them.”

Along with working with personal growers, Happy Trees has hemp farm clients, some of which grow their crop for CBD, that depend on the business for equipment.

Governor amends cannabis bill
Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, proposed Senate Bill 591 which initially aimed to curtail underage use of retail cannabis products by banning depictions of animals, humans, vehicles, and fruits.

Lawmakers amended and passed a bill that changes the definition of cannabis in the Virginia code to include any substance containing over .3%, or more than 0.25 milligrams of THC per serving or more than one milligram of THC per package.

The bill also cracked down on the delta-8 market, or products synthetically produced to have higher THC levels, which sprang up over what lawmakers considered a legislative loophole. Hanger’s bill also worried industrial hemp farmers because some market products could surpass the allowable levels.

Haynie said several customers moved their hemp businesses back to Virginia when it became legal and that they will either move their business out of state or quit working in the industry.

“I can literally count 20 people I know that will be out of jobs if this bill passes,” Haynie said.

Youngkin had several recommendations for the bill, including making it a class 2 misdemeanor to possess 2 to 6 ounces of cannabis, which could mean up to six months in jail, or up to a $1,000 fine, or both. Youngkin recommended that possession over 6 ounces and up to 16 ounces be made a Class 1 misdemeanor. Currently, the penalty is a $25 fine for possessing more than 1 ounce and up to 16 ounces.

“We are extremely dismayed that the Governor has sought to enact misdemeanor legal penalties on possession of certain amounts,” Happy Trees stated about Youngkin’s recommendations. “This seems to be creating legal penalties for something that is not a problem.”

Youngkin also added language that only persons 21 or older can purchase CBD products.

Although .3% THC was already the legal limit in Virginia, Youngkin struck language that would have made illegal any products with more than 0.25 milligrams of THC per serving. Growers said the bill legislators approved would have made it harder to find a market to sell hemp-based products, other than fiber if the product market is more heavily regulated.

“We applaud the Governor for removing the THC concentration limits that were a component of the original bill,” Happy Trees stated. “Easily 40 percent of our full-spectrum products would have been illegal if the bill was signed as it was originally passed by the General Assembly.”

Honey Seibert began growing legally in 2021 and has a side job helping people set up and maintain their cannabis grow environments. Growers are happy to ban cannabis products branded to appeal to underage users, she said.

“There is a serious community of growers that don’t want to see things marketed in that manner,” Seibert said. “They should have more adult names.”

Seibert said it would be horrible if the bill passes, regardless. Seibert’s husband began using easy-to-obtain delta-8 vape cartridges to alleviate back pain when traveling and in situations where he can’t smoke cannabis.

The General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene on April 27 to consider the governor’s recommendations.

By Joe Dodson
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.

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New information technology and cybersecurity legislation goes into effect in Virginia on July 1, 2022

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RICHMOND – Starting today, July 1, 2022, new state laws take effect that impact information technology (IT) and cybersecurity in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The first piece of legislation expands the requirements for public bodies when it comes to reporting cybersecurity incidents. As of July 1, every state and local public body must report to the Virginia Fusion Intelligence Center all incidents that:

• Threaten the security of the Commonwealth’s data or communications;
• Result in the exposure of data protected by federal or state laws; or
• Compromise the security of the public entity or agency’s IT systems with the potential to cause major disruption to normal activities.

These reports must be made within 24 hours of discovering an incident.

Additionally, the legislation requires the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the Commonwealth to convene a workgroup of state and local stakeholders. The workgroup, which started meeting in May, is reviewing current cybersecurity reporting and information-sharing practices and will make recommendations on best practices regarding such reports.


“Cybersecurity is a priority of critical importance for the Commonwealth of Virginia, as is focused coordination of government of all levels and entities,” said Deputy Secretary of Cybersecurity of the Commonwealth Aliscia Andrews. “The implementation of this legislation provides a golden opportunity for us to connect, learn about our collective strengths, and be ready to respond.”

“Last year, we reported over 66 million cyberattack attempts on our systems in the Commonwealth. That’s a rate of 2.12 attacks every second,” said CIO of the Commonwealth Robert Osmond. “When we see the intensity and sophistication with which cyber attackers are carrying out these threats, we know that we need every resource available to strengthen our cybersecurity infrastructure. VITA looks forward to collaborating with our partners to help keep all our systems, ways of conducting business, and, ultimately, our services and our people, safe.”

The second piece of legislation transforms the Information Technology Advisory Council (ITAC) into a body with members from the private sector as well as legislators, increases the number of council members, and adds cybersecurity to the ITAC’s advisory area. Member appointments to the new ITAC should be completed soon, and the council is expected to begin meeting later this year.

For more information about VITA and its mission, visit VITA’s website.

The Virginia IT Agency proudly serves the Commonwealth’s 65 executive branch agencies, a workforce of 55,000 state employees, and 8.6 million Virginians. VITA connects Virginians to critical government services through information and innovation technology, infrastructure, cybersecurity, and governance.

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New law allows DMV to grant extended license validity to military and others

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Effective July 1, 2022, certain license holders are able to apply with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for driver’s license extensions of up to six years for military and foreign service members serving outside of Virginia and government contractors working outside the United States; and up to two years for those showing good cause for extensions. Prior to July 1, those extensions were valid for up to three years and one year, respectively.

“We understand the challenges faced by our military, foreign service, and government contractor customers with deployments and assignments keeping them on the move,” said Acting DMV Commissioner Linda Ford. “Similarly, we know that things like long-term medical treatment or caring for a loved one in another state can create hardships for any of us. We’re pleased to be able to work with customers in these situations to further extend driver’s licenses, giving them one less thing to worry about.”

The change stems from HB 540, introduced by Delegate Danica Roem (D–Prince William), passed by the General Assembly during the 2022 session, and signed into law by Governor Glenn Youngkin.

In all cases, customers need to complete an application process and provide supporting documentation in order to qualify for a driver’s license extension. Currently, extended customers can apply for the newly enacted extensions, up to the six and two-year limits, via the same application process they originally followed.



More information, including complete application instructions, is available at:

https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/general/#outsideva/military.asp (for military members)

https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/general/#outsideva/diplomat.asp (for diplomats)

https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/general/#outsideva/contractors.asp (for government contractors).

Customers who need information on hardship extensions may visit www.dmvNOW.com and click Contact Us.

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Governor Glenn Youngkin issues Executive Order reforming Virginia’s regulatory process

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Richmond, VA – On June 30, 2022, Governor Youngkin signed Executive Order #19 establishing the Office of Regulatory Management within the Office of the Governor to provide transparency, streamline regulatory management, and fulfill Governor Youngkin’s commitment to reduce 25% of Virginia’s regulatory burdens.

“Last year, I pledged to Virginians that we would remove 25% of the regulatory requirements in the Commonwealth. In the spirit of this objective, we have created the Office of Regulatory Management, led by Andrew Wheeler, which will create much-needed transparency and efficiency in Virginia’s regulatory process to ensure that we have a government that works for the citizens of the Commonwealth,” said Governor Youngkin.

The Office of Regulatory Management (ORM) will streamline regulatory activities across the executive branch and manage cross-departmental functions such as regulations, permits, and grants. The ORM will review all agency regulations and initiate the “Unified Regulatory Plan” by which all agencies will annually publish a publicly available list of all expected regulations for the upcoming year. This Executive Order also calls for tracking new regulatory requirements for each new effective regulation and reviewing all existing regulations every four years.

This Executive Order enhances transparency by requiring the posting of all proposed regulations on Virginia’s Regulatory Town Hall website. The new regulatory review process will require agencies to conduct cost-benefit and other analyses of their proposed regulations to ensure they are not overly burdensome on other public bodies or private citizens.


 

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Celebrate smart, safe & sober this July 4th holiday weekend

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Independence Day traditions include backyard barbecues, festivals, family gatherings, and fireworks. To keep all those living, working, visiting, and traveling through Virginia safe during the extended holiday weekend, the Virginia State Police is encouraging Virginians to play it smart and plan ahead to ensure everyone on the road is safe and sober.

“Summer days are filled with celebrations, vacations, outdoor festivals, and backyard cookouts, but no matter where your plans take you, please make safety your priority,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “With fatal traffic crashes on pace this year to mimic last year’s record number, I urge all Virginians to buckle up, eliminate distractions and never drive buzzed, drunk, or under the influence. Together we can make this Independence Day the safest on record!”

If planning to drink alcohol at a July 4 function, plan ahead and arrange a designated driver, use a rideshare service or taxi, or utilize public transportation to be certain you get home safely. Party hosts are encouraged to serve non-alcoholic beverage options, and to help prevent any guests from drinking and driving home from their event.

As part of its ongoing efforts to increase safety and reduce traffic fatalities on Virginia’s highways during the coming holiday weekend, Virginia State Police will increase patrols from 12:01 am Friday (July 1, 2022) through midnight Monday (July 4, 2022) as part of the Operation Crash Awareness Reduction Effort (C.A.R.E.). Operation C.A.R.E. is a state-sponsored, national program intended to reduce crashes, fatalities, and injuries due to impaired driving, speed, and failing to wear a seat belt.


During last year’s four-day Independence Day Operation C.A.R.E initiative, there were 12 traffic deaths on Virginia highways. Virginia troopers arrested 61 drivers operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, cited 4,025 speeders and 1,434 reckless drivers, and issued 510 citations to individuals for failing to obey the law and buckle up. Troopers also assisted 1,550 disabled/stranded motorists.

With increased holiday patrols, Virginia State Police also reminds drivers of Virginia’s “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to move over when approaching an emergency vehicle stopped alongside the road. If unable to move over, then drivers are required to cautiously pass the emergency vehicle. The law also applies to workers in vehicles equipped with amber lights.

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DMV reminds Virginians to make a plan before celebrating this Fourth of July

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The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reminds Virginians to celebrate responsibly and designate a sober driver before the Fourth of July festivities begin.

Last year, during the Fourth of July holiday period (July 2-July 5, 2021) there were 105 crashes, 56 injuries, and two deaths related to alcohol on the Commonwealth’s roads.

“Preventing an alcohol-related tragedy is simple – do not drive after drinking any alcohol, period,” said Acting DMV Commissioner Linda Ford, the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative. “Even one drink can impair judgment on the road. And if your holiday celebrations involve alcohol, be sure to designate a sober driver before the party begins to ensure a safe ride home.”

Celebrate this Fourth of July weekend responsibly:


  • If you are planning to drink at an event, plan a safe ride home before even arriving.
  • If someone you know has been drinking, do not let that person get behind the wheel.
  • If you do decide to drink, do not drive for any reason. Arrange a ride from a sober friend, a taxi, or a ride-sharing service.
  • If you are serving alcohol at your party, make sure all guests leave with a sober driver.
  • Everyone in the vehicle should be wearing a seat belt – it’s your best defense against impaired drivers.
  • Slow down and if you see an impaired driver on the road, contact law enforcement – your actions could save a life.

 

 

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Virginia’s annual crime analysis report now available on Virginia State Police website

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Virginia’s official and only comprehensive report on local and statewide crime figures for 2021, titled Crime in Virginia, is now available online at the Virginia State Police website on the VSP CJIS Data Analysis & Reporting Team page. Crime in Virginia continues to provide precise rates and occurrences of crimes committed in towns, cities and counties across the Commonwealth. The report breaks down criminal offenses and arrests by reporting agency.

Violent crime includes the offenses of murder, forcible sex offenses (rape, sodomy and sexual assault with an object per the FBI’s updated rape definition), robbery and aggravated assault. Overall, the violent crime rate increased in 2021 to 194.4 (per 100,000 population) from 183.0 in 2020.  There were 16,823 violent crime offenses reported in 2021 compared to 15,713 violent crime offenses reported in 2020, representing a 7.1% increase.

The following 2021 crime figures in Virginia are presented in the report:

  • The number of reported homicides increased from 528 to 562 (6.4%).  The murder/non-negligent manslaughter rate increased from 6.15 in 2020 to 6.49 in 2021 (per 100,000 population).  Victims and offenders tended to be younger males; 38.6% of homicide victims were men between 18 and 34 and 55.7% of known offenders were men between 18 and 34.  Nearly half (47.5%) of all homicides occurred at a residence/home.
  • Motor vehicle thefts and attempted thefts increased 3.8% compared to 2020. During 2021, there were 11,638 motor vehicles reported stolen in 11,249 offenses. In 2021, 7,589 motor vehicles were recovered (vehicles may have been stolen prior to 2021).  Of all motor vehicles stolen, 35.4% were taken from the residence/home.  The reported value of all motor vehicles stolen was $131,738,135.
  • Drug arrests decreased by nearly half (46.7%) with the largest percentage decrease in arrestees under age 25 (67.6%).  The number of reports of drugs seized decreased for nearly all drug types, especially marijuana (67%), due in part to decriminalization of possessing less than 1 ounce of the drug effective July 1, 2020 and Code of Virginia §18.2-250.1 being repealed July 1, 2021.
  • Burglary decreased by 8.3% between 2020 and 2021. In fact, burglaries and attempted burglaries have steadily declined over the past ten years. In 2021, there were 10,464 burglaries and attempted burglaries whereas in 2011 there were 27,872, representing a decreased burglary rate in the last decade from 344.24 to 120.89 per 100,000 population.
  • Fraud offenses increased 8.4% compared to 2020. Nearly 80% of victims (79.9%) were individuals while 11.3% were businesses. Nearly a quarter (23.2%) of fraud victims were over the age 65.
  • Of the known weapons reported for violent crimes, firearms were used in 82.1% of homicides and 48.6% of robberies. Firearms were used in more than one-third (38.7%) of aggravated assault cases.
  • There were 123 hate crime offenses, involving 106 victims, reported in 2021.  This represents a 35.3% decrease compared to 2020. Most hate crimes (69.8%) were racially or ethnically motivated. Bias toward sexual orientation and religion were next highest (19.0%, 8.7%, respectively). Of all reported bias motivated crimes, 75.6% were assault offenses (aggravated assault, simple assault) or destruction/damage/vandalism of property.

The report employs an Incident Based Reporting (IBR) method for calculating offenses, thus allowing for greater accuracy. IBR divides crimes into two categories: Group A for serious offenses including violent crimes (murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery and aggravated assault), property crimes and drug offenses, and Group B for what are considered less serious offenses such as trespassing, disorderly conduct, and liquor law violations where an arrest has occurred.


Per state mandate, the Department of Virginia State Police serves as the primary collector of crime data from participating Virginia state and local police departments and sheriff’s offices. The data are collected by the Virginia State Police Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division via a secured internet system. This information is then compiled into Crime in Virginia, an annual report for use by law enforcement, elected officials, media and the general public. These data become the official crime statistics for the Commonwealth and are sent to the FBI for incorporation into their annual report, Crime in the United States.

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The Studio-A Place for Learning

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Vetbuilder.com

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