Starting July 1, adults 21 and older in Virginia can legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana.
Ahead of that date, local police departments say they are preparing their officers, while advocates say the bill needs serious retooling to keep kids out of the juvenile justice system and help reverse the harm done to Black and brown communities after decades of unequal enforcement.
“We still have time to fix many of these things,” Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of the racial justice and cannabis advocacy group Marijuana Justice, said. “Between now and then, we have elections. We have to talk to people about how they’re going to take this legalization forward while centering equity. This is not over.”
The Virginia General Assembly passed a law earlier this month accelerating the legalization of weed from July 2024 to this coming summer. The law will be reenacted in 2024, when recreational, commercial sales are legalized.
Through June 30, the possession of less than one ounce of cannabis will remain “decriminalized” — that is, it is penalized with a fine, but the incident does not show up on a person’s criminal record.
The new law legalizing cannibis essentially permits those 21 and older to use marijuana inside their homes, and possibly in their backyards; grow up to four plants; and possess up to one ounce of cannabis. The plant must be in a manufacturer’s container for someone to drive with it in the car legally.
Giving cannabis to someone underage is considered a felony, while students younger than 21 who are found in possession of the plant on school grounds would be charged with a misdemeanor. A clause requires court-ordered drug treatment services for individuals 20 and under found with the plant.
People in jail for marijuana-related crimes will remain there, Virginia Mercury reports.
Here are the top areas of interest and concern for police officers, people in the criminal justice system and advocates.
Although marijuana-related arrests have been trending down recently, Falls Church City Police Chief Mary Gavin says that one potential consequence of marijuana legalization is more people driving while stoned.
“There are going to be obviously growing pains,” Gavin said. “My biggest concern, in terms of public safety, is the possible increase of driving under the influence.”
According to data provided to Tysons Reporter by the police departments, cannabis arrests appear to be trending down slightly in both Fairfax County and Falls Church City. A chart supplied by Fairfax County Police Department shows arrest rates peaking in 2018 before dropping off dramatically in 2020.
The Falls Church City Police Department reported a similar pattern. It made 61 and 63 arrests in 2018 and 2019, respectively, followed by 17 arrests in 2020 and none so far this year.
Herndon Police Department spokesperson Lisa Herndon said the town had about 125 marijuana-related arrests from Jan. 1, 2018 to Dec. 13, 2020.
Gavin attributed the recent drop-off in arrests to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and a policy change introduced by Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano, who ceased prosecuting simple marijuana possession cases against adults when he took office on Jan. 2, 2020.
Descano told Tysons Reporter that he stopped prosecuting marijuana cases because it would be the right approach for community safety and racial equity. His office estimates that more than 1,000 cases have since been dismissed.
“While the opposition to this decision was intense at the time — so much so that we planned to create a bail fund in case our attorneys were held in contempt of court and jailed — I am pleased that other jurisdictions followed suit and marijuana has now been legalized across the Commonwealth,” Descano said. Read More
J.R. Stockyards Inn for Sale — The 1.18-acre property that currently houses one of the oldest restaurants in Tysons hit the market in early March, with a new owner expected to be chosen by the end of April. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a redevelopment of the site in October that would replace the Stockyards with a 26-story mixed-use building. [Washington Business Journal]
Connolly Urges Congress to Follow Virginia’s Lead in Legalizing Weed — “Another big progressive win here in Virginia,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) said after the Virginia General Assembly voted yesterday to legalize marijuana starting July 1. “I hope my colleagues in the House and Senate will join me in supporting the MORE Act to legalize marijuana nationwide.”[Gerry Connolly/Twitter]
Falls Church Schedules Town Hall on Gateway Development — Falls Church City staff and the developer of the West Falls Church project will present updates and answer questions on April 14 at noon. The city will also hold a town hall meeting on April 15 to discuss its proposed FY 2022 budget and new capital improvements program. [City of Falls Church]
Clemyjontri Carousel and Train Among Facilities Reopening This Spring — Fairfax County Park Authority facilities have started to reopen for the spring, with hours expected to expand further into the summer. Visitors are encouraged to buy tickets in advance, because amusements will operate at reduced capacity, though drop-in tickets will be available on-site if they do not sell out online. [FCPA]
Proof of Job Searches Will Soon Be Required for Unemployment Benefits Again — “The Virginia Employment Commission says it will start notifying unemployment benefit recipients of the return of job-search requirements starting in May. To qualify, or continue to qualify, for unemployment benefits in Virginia, those filing claims must provide evidence…of at least two job applications each week for VEC review.” [WTOP]
Photo by Joanne Liebig
New Cancer Treatment Facility to Open in Merrifield — “Virginia Cancer Specialists, which operates 10 locations in Northern Virginia, will be opening its new 60,000-square-foot facility on April 13 in the Merrifield area. The new center located at 8613 Lee Highway will replace the VCS’ current center at 8503 Arlington Blvd.” [Patch]
Tour de Hunter Mill Coming to Vienna — Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn will host the inaugural district-wide bicycle tour, which will take cyclists from Reston to Vienna and back again through the Spring Hill Metro station in Tysons. The event will take place on May 15 with a $25 registration fee for anyone 16 and older. [Hunter Mill District Supervisor’s Office]
Vienna State Senator Skeptical of Marijuana Legalization — Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposal to amend a bill legalizing marijuana to make it effective on July 1 appears to have enough support to pass when the Virginia General Assembly reconvenes this month, but State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) says he’s “not a fan of setting up a marijuana industry in this state, which appears to be the purpose of the legislation.” [Associated Press/WTOP]
Online Forum Scheduled for Vienna Town Council Candidates — An online candidate forum for the upcoming Vienna Town Council election on May 4 will be recorded and available to view starting on April 12. The event will be posted to the town government’s YouTube channel and air on TV regularly until the election. [Sun Gazette]
Tysons Company to Bring Broadband to the Arctic — “OneWeb plans to start offering broadband from space in the Arctic region this fall, a capability the company hopes will attract U.S. military and other national government customers…Following the latest launch of 36 satellites on March 25, OneWeb has 146 in operation.” [Space News]
Police Arrest D.C. Resident for Attempted Robbery in Tysons — There was an attempted robbery in the 1600 block of International Drive around 11:30 a.m. on March 23. According to the police report, a man “approached the victim, displayed a knife and demanded property before walking away. Responding officers arrested the man, Jason Stokes, 38, of Washington, D.C. and charged him with robbery.” [Fairfax County Police Department]
Vienna Delegate Joins Other State Legislators to Create AAPI Caucus — Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna) is among several Virginia lawmakers to join the General Assembly’s newly formed Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus. The group’s creation was announced on Friday (March 26) to coincide with a national #StopAsianHate Day of healing and action in response to the March 16 shootings that killed eight people, including six Asian women, in Georgia. [DCist]
Peak Bloom for Cherry Blossoms Comes Early — The National Park Service declared yesterday (Sunday) that the cherry trees around D.C.’s Tidal Basin have hit peak bloom, a week earlier than initially anticipated. The agency attributes the early bloom to “well above average” temperatures for the region over the past week. [National Park Service/Twitter]
Tysons is Key to Region’s Economic Recovery, PenFed CEO Says — “As we look to the coming year, we must support a return to offices, continue to diversify our community and prioritize the recovery of Tysons’s hospitality sector, which has suffered the most during the pandemic. We must continue investing in factors that increase livability, like parks and walking paths, and we must incentivize new retail, new businesses and new residents.” [Washington Business Journal]
Photo by Joanne Liebig
The Town of Vienna is leading the way in Virginia with a newly conceived celebration of four amendments to the U.S. Constitution that enshrined the rights of people of color and women.
The town announced on Friday (March 12) that planning for the inaugural Liberty Amendments Month celebration is officially underway, and community organizations, businesses and individuals are encouraged to help shape the four weeks of festivities.
Liberty Amendments Month is the brainchild of Vienna Town Manager Mercury Payton, and the Vienna Town Council adopted a resolution on Dec. 7 to officially recognize the occasion. It has since been ratified by the Virginia General Assembly as well.
“We all can celebrate these amendments that ensure rights and liberties for each of us,” Payton said.
“I’m so proud that the Town of Vienna is leading the way in initiating this holiday and month-long commemoration of these fundamental rights that we all cherish,” Mayor Linda Colbert said. “I’m especially proud that Town Manager Mercury Payton came up with the idea and has worked hard to see it become a reality.”
In the wake of last summer’s racial justice protests, Payton conceived of Liberty Amendments Month as a celebration of the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Constitutional amendments, which abolished slavery, granted citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in the U.S., and extended voting rights to all citizens regardless of race and gender.
Liberty Amendments Month will begin on June 19 — also known as Juneteenth — with an educational event that will “offer a thoughtful reflection on the liberties assured by these four amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” according to the town.
Each of the next four weeks will be dedicated to one of the four liberty amendments with contests, lectures, classes, themed restaurant specials, walks, art exhibits, films, and performances.
The celebration will culminate on July 19 with a multicultural festival featuring food, drinks, crafts, and entertainment from around the world. The Vienna Town Council has designated that day as Liberty Amendments Day, replacing Columbus Day on its list of official holidays.
“There’s lots to celebrate here,” Councilmember Chuck Anderson said. “This is going to be a people’s event just as the Constitution is the people’s document.”
Groups interested in sponsoring, participating in, or hosting events can apply online by April 1.
The town is advising planners to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions and social-distancing guidelines, which could still be in place this summer.
Planning meetings will be held at 5 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Interested organizations can contact [email protected] for a Zoom link to the meetings or more details.
Photo via Town of Vienna
Police Pursue Driver on Arlington Boulevard — A Centreville driver was arrested after driving through two red lights, one at Cedar Lane and another at Jaguar Trail, and hitting another vehicle. An officer was in pursuit of the driver after he drove through the first red light and refused to stop. Both drivers involved in the collision were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. [Fairfax County Police Department]
Young Renters Make Up One-Third of Tysons’ Population — “So, who are the 28,000 people living in Tysons? If Esri is right, it’s largely well-off professionals who value urban amenities. Whether that will remain the case as Tysons works toward its 100,000-resident target remains to be seen.” [Greater Greater Washington]
Tysons Augmented Reality Company Acquired — The German company TeamViewer, which “provides remote connectivity solutions,” acquired Upskill, an augmented reality software company founded in Tysons in 2010. Upskill’s software platform Skylight “enables organizations to deploy augmented reality applications across hardware like smart glasses and mobile devices.” [Technical.ly]
Virginia Set to Become First Southern State with Voting Rights Act — Now awaiting Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature after passing the General Assembly, the new law “will require local election officials to go through a review process before making election-related decisions like consolidating or closing polling places, changing district boundaries, creating at-large seats on local governing bodies or school boards or affecting the ability of non-English speakers to vote.” [Virginia Mercury]
Financial Expert Skeptical of MicroStrategy Bitcoin-Buying Spree — “MicroStrategy Inc.’s high-profile Bitcoin buying spree is “irresponsible” and makes the business intelligence software company vulnerable, according to a financial expert. The Tysons company has purchased about $2.186 billion in bitcoins, which amounts to 90,859 bitcoins at about $24,063 each, according to recent Securities and Exchange Commission filings.” [Washington Business Journal]
Vienna Police Provide Live Feed of Station Construction — The Vienna Police Department has set up a camera so that community members can watch the progress of construction on its new station in real time. People can also get weekly updates by subscribing to Vienna’s police highlights alerts. [Vienna Police/Twitter, Town of Vienna/Twitter]
Photo by Joanne Liebig
Fairfax County Planning Commission Defers Vote on zMOD — The commission was scheduled to vote on the county’s proposed modernized zoning ordinance when it met on Wednesday (Feb. 24). Commissioners decided to defer the decision to Mar. 3 “to take some additional time for consideration.” [Fairfax County Planning Commission]
Wawa Customers Could Get Payout From 2019 Data Breach — “Between March 4, 2019 and Dec. 12, 2019, Wawa’s stores and fuel pumps were targeted by a data breach at all of its 850 stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida and Washington, D.C…Now, a proposed settlement could lead to a payout for affected customers by way of Wawa gift cards and even cash.” [Patch]
Northam and Hogan Praise Progress on American Legion Bridge Project — The Virginia and Maryland governors issued a joint statement yesterday saying that the effort to replace the aging, oft-congested American Legion Bridge is “truly a generational project, and we are excited to move forward.” Fairfax County leaders and residents have been advocating for the timeline of the 495 NEXT project in McLean to be more closely aligned with Maryland’s express lanes project. [Virginia Governor’s Office]
General Assembly Passes Bill Requiring Full-Time, In-Person Learning — The State Senate voted 36-3 yesterday to send a bill that would require school districts to give students an option to attend in-person classes full-time, with some limited exceptions, including if a school has high levels of COVID-19 transmission. The legislation is now on Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk and would go into effect on July 1 if signed into law. [ABC7-WJLA]
Park Authority Warns Against Online Scam — “The Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) has been notified of a Facebook page that uses the FCPA logo and a misspelled version of Fairfax County to friend request and message people that they have won a prize. The recipient is asked to click on the link to claim the prize. THIS IS A SCAM.” [Fairfax County Park Authority]
More Pharmacies to Administer COVID-19 Vaccine — “Giant Pharmacy and MyDr.’s Pharmacy have joined the list of vaccination partners who are assisting the Health Department in its efforts to vaccinate eligible individuals in its queue…All vaccinations occur by appointment only, there are no walk-ins.” [Fairfax County Health Department]
Senate Drops Amendment Tying Metro Funding to McLean Station Name — Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) says she is pulling her amendment that would have made $165 million in funding for Metro contingent on adding “Capital One Hall” to the McLean station’s name after the transit agency agreed to install wayfinding signs for the new performance venue and speed up construction of a second entrance to the station. [The Washington Post]
McLean Resident Wins $2 Million in Lottery — “Accidents happen, but sometimes the outcome turns out better than you’d expect. For one McLean resident, buying too many Powerball tickets turned into a $2 million win.” [McLean Patch]
General Assembly Makes Last Year’s Voting Changes Permanent — “Both the Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate approved legislation that creates drop boxes for collecting absentee ballots; makes it easier for someone to get on the list of permanent absentee voters; pays the postage for mail-in ballots, and allows voters to correct errors on absentee ballots.” [WTOP]
Senate Could Tie Metro Funding to McLean Station Name — “A Virginia Senate bill would withhold at least $166 million pledged to Metro unless the transit system adds the name of Capital One bank to the McLean rail station. The legislation would rename the Silver Line station as “McLean-Capital One Hall,” a reference to a performance venue the bank is building a quarter-mile from the site.” [The Washington Post]
Fairfax County Equity Task Force Presents Recommendations — The Chairman’s Task Force on Equity and Opportunity released its recommendations yesterday (Tuesday) for how Fairfax County can address systemic racism and other forms of inequality. Suggestions include ensuring access to early childhood education and increasing the availability of affordable housing. [Fairfax County Government]
Fairfax County Releases Revised Countywide Strategic Plan — “Following a year of pause and then refinement due to COVID-19, County Executive Bryan Hill unveiled his proposed strategic plan to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 23. The strategic plan lays out a community-based vision for the next 10 to 20 years and features nine priority areas to advance that vision.” [Fairfax County Government]
Town Hall Meeting Scheduled on West Falls Church Project — The City of Falls Church will hold a virtual town hall on Mar. 2 to provide updates on its West Falls Church Gateway project. The mixed-use development has been delayed as its developers revise the terms of their agreement with the city. [City of Falls Church]
Vienna Metro Bike/Pedestrian Improvements Meeting Rescheduled — A virtual public information meeting on a project to improve bicycle and pedestrian accessibility around the Vienna Metro station has been rescheduled for Mar. 18. The meeting was originally expected to take place today (Wednesday). [Virginia Department of Transportation]
Falls Church Pharmacy Provides Free Insulin to the Uninsured — “Through this pilot initiative NOVA ScriptsCentral will provide insulin for free to uninsured patients being treated at one of its 16 safety net partner clinics in Northern Virginia.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Virginia to Become First Southern State to Abolish Death Penalty — “State lawmakers gave final approval Monday to legislation that will end capital punishment in Virginia, a dramatic turnaround for a state that has executed more people in its long history than any other. The legislation repealing the death penalty now heads to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who has said he will sign it into law, making Virginia the 23rd state to stop executions.” [AP News]
Bank Proposed to Replace Peet’s Coffee in Vienna — The Town of Vienna Board of Zoning Appeals is scheduled to consider a conditional use permit to turn the former Peet’s Coffee on Maple Avenue into a drive-thru Burke & Herbert Bank on Mar. 17. Peet’s permanently closed its store in Vienna last summer. [Vienna Patch]
Fairfax County Lowers Flags to Commemorate COVID-19 Victims — “The U.S., Virginia and Fairfax County flags are lowered to half-staff in respect and memory of the more than 500,000 Americans, including over 7,400 Virginians, who have died from COVID-19. The flags will remain at half-staff until sunset Friday, Feb. 26.” [Fairfax County Government/Twitter]
Metro Seeks Public Input on Budget — The public comment period for Metro’s FY 2022 budget is officially open. With rail ridership down 90% and bus ridership down 60% during the pandemic, the proposed budget could close 22 stations, consolidate bus lines, reduce train and bus service, and result in employee layoffs. The comment period ends at 5 p.m. on Mar. 16. [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority]
Black Ice Makes Travel Hazardous — With temperatures at or below freezing, roads could have slick spots through mid-morning. Police urge caution as icy roadways have been reported throughout Fairfax County. [NWS/Twitter, Fairfax County Police Department/Twitter]