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
Virginia Becomes First Southern State to Abolish the Death Penalty — Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation yesterday (Wednesday) that made Virginia the 23rd state to eliminate the death penalty. The move reflected a “dramatic shift” for a state that has recorded the second-most executions in the U.S. Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna) celebrated the new law as “one of the most consequential votes” he’s cast in his 12 General Assembly sessions. [Associated Press]
Inova Mass COVID-19 Vaccination Site to Open Next Week — The mass vaccination facility that Inova Health Systems is setting up in Alexandria will open next Monday (March 29), Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says. The site has the capacity to vaccinate about 12,000 people per day and “will be particularly helpful to those in South County.” [Chairman Jeff McKay]
Judge Sets Hearing for Park Police Shooting of McLean Resident — U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton has scheduled a status hearing for April 23 to determine whether the two Park Police officers charged in the 2017 fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar “can be criminally prosecuted by the state of Virginia…or whether they fall under amnesty for federal officers from state criminal laws.” [The Washington Post]
Virginia Senator Discusses Experience with COVID-19 — “During a Senate health committee hearing earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine made a surprising admission: Long after contracting COVID-19, the Virginia Democrat is still experiencing strange symptoms. Kaine revealed last May that he and his wife had tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies following an onset of symptoms in March.” [U.S. News]
Falls Church Native Develops Website to Help Navigate Vaccine Registration — 20-year-old Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology graduate Eric Lin worked with a classmate at Harvard University to design a website called COVID Vaccines Info Guide that “would act as a one-stop-shop that provides comprehensive information for all 50 states.” [Falls Church News-Press]
McLean Resident Opposes Proposed Comprehensive Plan Changes — A Dominion Woods resident argues that Fairfax County’s proposals for revitalizing downtown McLean would overburden schools and create longer commutes by inviting an influx of new residents with “little upside” for existing residents. He says residential construction should be capped at 960 units over the next 10 years, high rises should be prohibited on properties next to Franklin Sherman Elementary School, and additional traffic studies should be conducted. [Connection Newspapers]
Fairfax County Public Library Introduces Text Service — “Beginning today [Mar. 1], you can text your #Fairfax library questions to 571-556-5025 and receive answers in real time 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Monday thru Friday. If it’s not during those real-time hours, send a text & a ticket will be automatically generated. We’ll respond when available.” [Fairfax County Public Library/Twitter]
New Police Reform Laws Take Effect — Several police reform laws passed during the Virginia General Assembly’s special session last year took effect yesterday, including a ban on no-knock search warrants, new statewide training standards related to racial bias and deescalation, and a “Marcus Alert” system that limits the role of law enforcement in responding to behavioral health issues. [@GovernorVA/Twitter]
Fairfax County Seeks Input on Active Transportation Plan — “The ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan will establish a vision and a roadmap for implementation of safe, convenient, and enjoyable streets, sidewalks, bike facilities, and trails in Fairfax County. “Community input is critical to the success of this planning effort,” said Chris Wells, the Active Transportation Program Manager at FCDOT.” [Fairfax County Department of Transportation]
McLean High School Kicks Off Football Season With a Win — “The McLean Highlanders opened their high-school football season with a 28-14 victory over the visiting Mount Vernon Majors on Feb. 27. McLean fell behind 7-0 on a long touchdown pass, then rallied.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]
Using a mobile phone while driving will officially be illegal in Virginia starting on Jan. 1.
Current state law prohibits reading a phone and texting while driving and holding a phone while driving through a work zone, but the Virginia General Assembly adopted legislation barring the use of handheld phones while driving a moving vehicle on state highways in March.
While the law was technically enacted on July 1, its effective date was delayed until the new year so that the public could be educated about its provisions and law enforcement agencies could get training on how to enforce it.
Violations of the new law will be punishable by a fine of $125 for the first offense and $250 fine for any subsequent offenses.
There are a few exceptions to the ban on using a phone while driving, including:
- Emergency vehicle operators who are performing their official duties, including law enforcement and fire and medical responses
- Drivers who are lawfully parked or stopped
- Someone using their phone to report an emergency
- The use of an amateur or citizens’ band radio
- Department of Transportation vehicle operators who are performing traffic incident management services
According to Drive Smart Virginia, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reported that 15% of all fatal crashes in 2018 were related to distracted driving. Fairfax County has the second-most distracted driving fatalities in the state, surpassed only by Prince William County, and the most injuries that result from distraction-related crashes.
The distracted driving ban is perhaps the most significant legal change coming to Virginia on New Year’s Day, but it is not the only new law that will take effect on Jan. 1.
Here are some other measures to be aware of when the new year arrives:
- HB 264: requires in-person training for concealed handgun permits, removing online or electronic courses as an option for demonstrating competence
- HB 1211: enables undocumented immigrants to apply for new driver privilege cards so they can legally drive
- HB 66: prohibits health insurance companies from charging more than $50 per 30-day supply for prescription insulin
- HB 789: sets a 36% annual rate cap on the interest and fees charged for a short-term loan, which can now go up to $2,500
- SB 172: protects people who receive emergency services from an out-of-network healthcare provider from unexpected medical costs
- HB 1407: prohibits employers from misclassifying employees as independent contractors
- HB 742: gives localities the authority to regulate the takeoff and landing of unmanned aircraft on public property
Photo via Alexandre Boucher on Unsplash
El Tio Tex-Mex Grill has been ordered by a federal court to properly compensate workers at all its restaurants, including its locations in McLean (1433 Center Street) and Falls Church (7630 Lee Highway).
Federal investigators found that Mejia Corporation, the company that operates El Tio, had violated labor laws by not paying minimum wage and overtime to tipped employees, particularly bussers and food runners, the U.S. Department of Labor reported yesterday (Wednesday).
A consent judgment filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia requires El Tio to pay $848,006 in back wages and liquidated damages to 209 employees for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets rules for minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor in the U.S.
“This employer failed to pay workers the wages they had legally earned, and then attempted to conceal that violation,” DOL Wage and Hour Baltimore District Director Nicholas Fiorello said.
Investigators in the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division determined that El Tio did not pay wages to tipped employees when they worked more than 80 hours in a pay period, forcing them to depend entirely on tips for those hours.
El Tio also paid kitchen staff standard rates instead of overtime when they worked more than 40 hours in a week. Federal investigators say that the restaurant chain falsified payroll records to suggest it had paid overtime.
The violations encompassed all four of the El Tio restaurants that Mejia Corp. currently runs, all of them in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County has three El Tio venues, with a Great Falls location (9835 Georgetown Pike) in addition to the ones in McLean and Falls Church. The original El Tio is in Gainesville.
A fifth El Tio in downtown Washington, D.C., was also included in the investigation and court judgment, but that location permanently closed its doors in November 2019.
This is the second time in three years that El Tio has come under federal investigation. Mejia Corp. agreed to pay $40,000 in 2019 to settle an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit that alleged at least three male servers at the Gainesville El Tio had been subjected to harassment and discrimination on the basis of sex.
On top of requiring the employer to pay back wages and damages, the judgment issued by the Baltimore-based U.S. District Court in the labor case prohibits El Tio from violating any FLSA provisions in the future.
“Other employers in this industry should use the resolution of this case as an opportunity to review their own pay practices to ensure they comply with the law and avoid such violations,” Fiorello said. “Workers who face similar circumstances or anyone with questions should call us to speak confidentially with a trained hour and wage professional.”
The DOL Wage and Hour Division has a toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243), and more information on the division’s work can be found at www.dol.gov/whd.
Photo via Google Maps
When someone passes away, not all assets are immediately or easily transferred to the intended heirs. Although creating and maintaining a will typically help transfer assets, a deceased’s assets are required to go through the court’s probate system. In these situations, it is important to learn about the probate process and seek legal advice when necessary.
What is Probate?
Probate is the court process that distributes someone’s estate after a loved one has passed. Typically, the probate process can take anywhere from six months to over a year. For descendants without a will, the estate is required to undergo a longer process. In these instances, the court will either select or approve an executor to manage the estate assets.
People who pass away with lots of debt may use probates so that the court can handle the claims. The court will decide how much each creditor is entitled to receiving. This helps prevent creditors from suing your heirs for assets and speeds up the asset transfer process. Likewise, people may use probate to ensure that the assets are divided properly amongst heirs. This can be especially helpful if your heirs may be overly contentious when dividing your assets.
How Do I Find Out the Probate Jurisdiction?
Typically, probate is handled by the circuit court where the deceased person owned real estate or resided before death. In circumstances where the deceased lived in a nursing home or hospital at the time of death, the circuit where they previously lived is typically granted court jurisdiction.
Virginia Probate Laws
Probate policies differ from state to state and have different taxes and process mechanisms.
Most notably, Virginia has a probate tax for estates over $15,000. Typically, this includes a $1 state tax and $0.33 local tax for every $1,000 someone has within an estate. For $100,000 estates, this probate tax would come out to $133.
Estates with more debt than assets are called insolvent estates. Typically, Virginia law provides that insolvent estates must pay debts and claims in priority order. High priority payments may include the expenses of administering the estate, family allowance, and funeral expenses of up to $3,500. Additionally, federal or state debt and taxes will also have priority over other claims.
In these cases, it is important to contact knowledgeable legal counsel so that the executor can maximize the estate’s potential and properly handle the debt-paying process.
How Can I Handle Virginia Probate?
To help understand the probate intricacies, Trusts and Estates Attorney Kerri Castellini explains how a lawyer can help manage the probate process.
“After the death of a loved one, a family wants to take time to grieve a loss,” says Castellini. “Unfortunately, debt collectors contact a family after their death and add to a growing list of expenses. In these cases, it may be difficult to determine how much debt your loved one owes and where to start with paying off expenses.”
When handling debt, oftentimes, an executor of an estate may pay off a funeral bill right away. In cases where other debts take priority, this can mean that the executor may be required to reimburse the funeral bill if the estate is insolvent. Speaking with a dedicated trust and estate attorney can help you tackle the probate process properly.
To help handle the probate process and prevent insolvent estate problems, the following steps may be helpful for executing an estate.
- Obtain a copy of the deceased’s death certificate
- File the will (or deceased’s estate assets) in the local circuit court
- Find and communicate with professionals — an estate attorney, accountant, insurance agent, and others to file the appropriate paperwork
- Create an estate account to hold the deceased’s assets
By beginning with those four steps, executors can help stay organized during the probate process. As going through probate is quite tricky, organization and collaboration amongst the different parties involved are essential to executing an estate.
Settling an estate through probate can be tiresome and confusing. With different creditors and heirs involved, the process can create an emotional toll during an already difficult time. To help prevent issues, it is important to seek estate execution assistance. Proper help can ensure that the estate debts are properly paid and that assets are paid out to the intended heirs.
Marijuana, or “weed,” comes from the cannabis plant and contains a psychoactive compound called THC, which gives users the euphoric “high” feeling when ingesting or smoking it. Today, marijuana is currently illegal on a federal level. However, in recent years, the subject of legalizing it all together has become a hot topic of conversation within the congress chambers.
Many states across the United States have legalized the drug with certain limitations on usage. As marijuana legalization continues to occur in more states in the US, it seems that congress may choose to either legalize or decriminalize it in the future. Legalization of this drug seems to be widely supported among the democratic party and is becoming increasingly popular among some republicans as well.
Why or Why Not Legalize Marijuana?
While some believe that marijuana has a horrible image, connected to drug abuse and trafficking, others believe that legalizing the drug could prove to do more good than harm. Proponents of marijuana legalization argue that marijuana is not nearly as bad as alcohol and does not cause people to abuse it, as it is not considered an addictive drug. Also, these proponents argue that marijuana can have serious physical and mental benefits, such as stress and anxiety relief, physical pain relief, as well as sleep assistance.
One of the most important reasons why many believe that marijuana legalization could significantly reduce mass incarceration as these laws disproportionately affect people of color and those in lower income communities. Opposition to widespread legalization centers around a fear of health and safety risks.
What States Have Legalized Marijuana?
As states and territories across the United States continue to make efforts to legalize marijuana, seventeen U.S. states, territories, or districts have already legalized the drug. As marijuana is still federally banned, the country has implemented the Cole memorandum for states to have separation of powers. Under this clause, states have the authority to implement their own marijuana provisions, while the drug is still federally banned. The one provision that all state laws must share is that a person must be over the age of 21 to buy, sell, or legally possess marijuana. The following states have legalized marijuana:
- Washington, D.C.
- New Jersey
- South Dakota
While the amount of legal possession differs in each state, most states keep the maximum one ounce. Michigan, Maine and Washington D.C., on the other hand have larger maximums. Michigan for example, allows citizens to possess a maximum of 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Other provisions that differ are the amount an individual can grow, use in products, as well as retail and excise taxes.
Decriminalization Vs Legalization
Some states have taken a different approach to the marijuana debate by decriminalizing it while still making it legal to use, possess, or sell. In addition to the seventeen states that have legalized marijuana, 26 states have decriminalized it.
Decriminalization is the act of decreasing the consequences or penalties of a certain criminal act, or reclassifying a criminal act based on the reduction of these penalties. In most of these states jail time has been removed or at least limited, especially for first time offenders. Most states have also lowered the fine amounts for the possession of marijuana. Moreover, many states have classified the penalties of possession, or buying/selling of marijuana as a civil offense rather than a criminal one.
“New York has decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana; however, this does not mean possession is legal,” says New York criminal attorney Jeffrey Lichtman. “Instead, it means those in possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana will not face criminal penalties unless they have prior offenses on their record.”
With growing support across the country for the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana, the next step may be implementing these law changes on the federal level.
Like much of its history, Maryland’s Purple Line light-rail project has hit another snag in its development.
Recently, the construction’s contractor group terminated its deal with the state due to over $800 million in unpaid cost overruns. This means Maryland will need to completely pause its work on the light-rail project connecting Maryland communities from Bethesda to New Carrollton for the time being.
After a lengthy legal battle, the state will shift its efforts into finding contractors and figure out how to balance transportation budget restrictions over the next six months. Unfortunately, this delay means that Marylanders won’t be riding on the purple line until 2024, at the earliest.
Given the numerous setbacks and the implications for Maryland taxpayers and Metro riders alike, here is an overview of recent Purple line developments.
Back in September, Purple Line Transit Partners, the group building the project, sued the state for breach of contract, seeking more than $100 million. The contractors sought to obtain compensation for the state’s requirements to hide subsequent delays within public project schedules and refusal to pay for delays.
That lawsuit served as a counterclaim against the Maryland Transit Administration, which was filed for more than $75 million in damages for the contractors’ “illegal notice” in leaving the project undone. The state cited $800 million in unpaid cost overruns and more than 2 ½ years of construction delays in its rationale.
Ultimately, the judge’s decision came down to whether or not the contractors may terminate the contract due to extended delays. With enough evidence that the state efforts inhibited their ability to continue the project efficiently, a judge allowed the contractors to terminate the contract.
Recently, the Board of Public Works in Maryland approved a new $250 million legal deal to reactivate the project within nine months. The state claims the plan is about 40 percent complete and refinancing will only take about three months before construction can resume. Still, actual work on the project may not resume until a new contractor is brought on board, which is expected to take around six months within a larger one year frame.
Under the payment agreement, Maryland will pay the first $100 million of the settlement before 2021. Soon thereafter, the remaining $150 million will be paid within 12 months, depending on when the state formally replaces the contractors.
A Legal Perspective
To help sort through this complicated litigation process, Attorney Seth Price helps explain the factors at play.
“The settlement came about because of disagreements over construction scheduling and funds,” says Attorney Seth Price. “For the contractors, there was a certain expectation that the state would allow progress and pay for delays when such disruptions were inevitable. With a breach in that expectation, the contractors were able to bring a breach of contract lawsuit against the state.”
What’s Next for the Purple Line?
Right now, the Purple Line’s progress is at a standstill with crews securing the work areas for safety. Eventually, the state will find a new set of contractors and begin development once again.
With these delays and funding concerns, however, there is no set due date for the Purple Line’s completion. Some estimates suggest late 2024, but with a project so disrupted and unreliable as the Purple Line, Marylanders know there are no guarantees.
The curve where the Beltway merges with I-270 is famously known for accidents. Between March 1, 2020 and September 1, 2020 there have been 36 accidents in the stretch of the outer loop, specifically at the big curve where I-270 and the beltway merge. In 28 of those 36 commercial vehicle accidents the drivers were charged with at least one traffic violation.
Types of Accidents
The accidents that happen at this junction are primarily trucking accidents that can be catastrophic for anyone involved and bring the road to a standstill. Types of accidents that police have reported include jack-knifed tractor-trailers, roll-overs and trailers that have broken loose. A few of these crashes have involved cars that have hit these trucks navigating the curve, or a car that was traveling in the blind spot of a tractor trailer when changing lanes and merging.
Maryland State Police know this “big curve” frequently has accidents as a result of traffic infractions and regularly patrol the area. Maryland State Police has reported that they are sending more officers to patrol that stretch looking for drivers that are speeding or driving recklessly. Over 1,200 tickets have been written for this Beltway and I-270 area, and State Police have reportedly conducted 272 commercial vehicle inspections and have given out over $23,000 in fines to drivers. However, these efforts of ticketing drivers and enforcing good driving behavior are not working as well as they should.
Preventing These Crashes
While Maryland State Police are working hard to catch drivers who are speeding and ticketing those who are committing traffic violations, it is currently not enough. The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) in conjunction with Maryland State Highway Administration (MDSHA) are working to alert truck drivers to the upcoming curve. MDSHA has put up electronic signs to try and give these drivers early warnings to slow down and that a curve is approaching.
Despite there being 36 commercial vehicle accidents along the “big curve” there has not been a single fatality. While this should be good news it leaves MDOT and MDSHA nervous that if they cannot figure out how to stop the crashes at the curve there will soon be a fatality. No one has been able to figure out how to stop the crashes, it seems that no matter how much signage is used, collisions are still happening. The victims of these crashes have been incredibly lucky thus far, but the concern is that the first fatality could happen sooner rather than later if adequate prevention methods are not put into place.
When large trucks follow a curved path, they have centrifugal force pulling the truck to lean away from the curve which in turn can cause a truck to overturn and rollover. When a truck is driving too quickly the likelihood of a crash happening increases exponentially as speed plays a major role in these collisions. That is why MDOT and MDSHA are trying to caution drivers early to the upcoming curve so they have adequate time to slow down. In addition, distracted drivers and faulty equipment also plays a role in these crashes.
Highway officials believe that some truckers feel they can safely speed since there are fewer drivers on the road due to the pandemic. However, drivers should follow the mandated speed of 50 miles per hour when navigating this particular junction and curve, or even drive slower if the conditions are precarious. When trucks and other vehicles drive faster they risk losing control of their vehicle.
The single best thing a driver can do when driving on a curved road, or going around a curve is to take measures to drive slowly to decrease the likelihood of a rollover. Drivers should also turn as little as possible, and while that sounds redundant, turning too much around a curve could cause an accident with another vehicle or cause a rollover accident. Trucks do not drive through curves as a normal car would, they are larger and have a much higher center of gravity making them more dangerous.
If drivers try to turn too much and too quickly that could disturb the vehicle equilibrium and cause an accident. Drivers should focus on following the laws of the road and paying attention to signage while operating their vehicle.
At a Public Safety Committee Meeting, Chairman Rodney Lusk presented an overview of proposed changes in what was described as possible changes rather than new policies set into stone.
Near term considerations included improved data collection to improve accuracy, with ethnicity and a breakdown of arrest data included in documentation. Data would be released quarterly.
One of the other practices that’s come under fire nationally is the firing and immediate re-hiring of police officers across jurisdictions. One proposed change would crack down on that as part of a statewide push to make decertification easier.
“Consider and discuss implementation of state legislation related to the decertification of law enforcement officers who have been terminated or resigned for misconduct and the request and disclosure of information for prospective law-enforcement hires,” the input matrix said.
While many of the items items being considered focused on more transparency and restrictions on police, another item being considered was a review of how to boost morale in the police department, which Lusk said was at an all time low.
The committee also considered some mid-term options, like reviewing regulations around school resource officers and a review of Fairfax County Police Department use of force policies. with more data about the racial distribution of arrests, another mid-term goal was reviewing racial disparities in use of force and arrests.
“These are public suggestions… not approved by the board,” said Fairfax County Board chair Jeff McKay. “This is a parking lot of ideas that have come through your office and now must be adjudicated by this board based on data and conversations… Some of these will go off to other committees.”
Image via Fairfax County