Del. Ken Plum and challenger Matt Lang

(Updated, 4:30 p.m.) In the race for 36th District, incumbent Ken Plum was outraised by Republican challenger Matt Lang during July and August according to the latest campaign finance reports.

Lang raised just over $12,500 dollars during the summer months while Plum raised about $7,400.

“I’ve already raised more than that in September alone,” Lang tells Reston Now. “Voters are paying attention and like what they see.”

However, due to Plum’s fundraising efforts earlier in the year, the incumbent far exceeds the challenger in regards to both overall cash raised and ending balances.

Plum has raised about $140,500 during this election cycle, while Lang is about a quarter of that at about $33,400. In terms of ending balances, Plum currently has about $73,000 in his coffers while Lang has about $13,600.

Plum’s highest fundraising months were in April and May while he was in a midst of primary challenge against Mary Barthelson, raising more than $50,000 in those two months alone. He won that race easily with about 77% of the vote.

Digging a bit deeper reveals that Lang’s funds since the beginning of the year have come from a mix of individual contributors and Republican-backed political action committees.

The PACs that have given money to Lang include the 11th Congressional District of VA Republican Committee, Virginia Wins (buoyed by a million dollar donation from Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin), and New Mission Commonwealth, which donates to Republican candidates who are veterans.

This a bit of a contrast to Plum, who mainly has gotten money from assorted companies, corporations, and labor unions as well as individual contributors and political actions committees.

The companies and corporations that have donated to Plum include several that are higher profile. This includes Westrock, America’s second-largest packaging company, waste management company Covanta Energy, Anthem Blue Cross And Blue Shield, and Total Wine & More (owned by Maryland Congressman and Democrat David Trone).

All of these companies have a presence in Virginia.

Additionally, Plum also received money this election cycle from Amazon, which is building a headquarters in nearby Arlington, and a cannabis company called Golden Piedmont Labs from South Boston, Virginia. In April, the General Assembly voted to legalize marijuana possession in Virginia and now are looking to speed up the ability to sell it for recreational purposes.

When asked about these contributions, Plum tells Reston Now that sometimes companies and corporations give without him knowing. But he would never let it factor into his decision-making process.

“There’s a perception in the minds of some folks that campaign contribution results in a vote,” says Plum. “It doesn’t work that way… there’s no deal-making. If it’s ever expected, that’s the day I retire because it’s immoral.”

Additionally in July and August, Plum used a chunk of his considerable campaign chest to donate to other Democrats running in Virginia, including Irene Shin, who is running for the delegate seat in the nearby 86th District, and Wendy Gooditis vying for re-election in the 10th District. He also contributed money to Schuyler VanValkenburg’s campaign in the 72nd District and Chris Hurst’s in the 12th District.

“I can’t signalulary get the job done in Richmond,” he says about why he uses his campaign funds to help other candidates. “We need others who are progressive Democrats and share my values to get things done… it’s certainly worked recently.”

Plum says he plans on sending out more checks in the coming weeks to help other candidates.

Lang’s expenses in July and August were majority for consulting services, advertising, and fundraising event-related items.

The reports that were just filed this past week covered campaign financial information from July and August. The last report for this cycle will cover September and October items and will likely be released after the November election.

Early voting started this past Friday (September 17) and will continue to election day, November 2.

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Morning Notes

Lake Anne Plaza fountain in August (via vantagehill/Flickr)

COVID-19 Vaccine Recommended for Pregnant People — “COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for everyone 12 years and older, including those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or would like to get pregnant. The rise in COVID-19 cases, low vaccine uptake among pregnant people, and the increased risk of severe illness during pregnancy make vaccination more urgent than ever.” [Fairfax County Health Department]

Local Cycling Studio Announces Vaccine Requirement — Starting Sept. 1, New Trail Cycling in Lake Anne Plaza will require patrons to provide proof that they’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to take an indoor class. Owner Liz Camp says she’s not aware of any other businesses in the Reston and Herndon area with a similar policy but felt it’s a necessary extra step to keep people safe and healthy as cases rise. [New Trail Cycling]

Police Union Supports Eliminating Ticket-Writing Quotas — The Virginia Police Benevolent Association, which represents 750 state troopers, says it’s working with the General Assembly on a law that would prohibit law enforcement agencies from imposing quotas on officers, saying that approach is outdated and leads to more negative interactions with the public. Virginia State Police officials deny using quotas, but emails suggest troopers are evaluated in part by how many tickets they write. [WTOP]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Virginia State Capitol in Richmond (via Martin Kraft/Wikimedia Commons)

After nearly a year and a half spent working with colleagues over video, Del. Ken Plum was happy to be able to see all of his fellow Virginia General Assembly members in-person again.

“It’s good to see and work with people after such a profoundly long time,” said Plum, who represents Virginia’s 36th House District, including Reston.

When the Virginia General Assembly met for a special session on Aug. 2, it had been about 17 months since the entire legislature last convened in person at the State Capitol in Richmond. With COVID-19 cases again on the rise, lawmakers still saw some notable deviations from their usual procedures.

Plexiglass walls surrounded a number of legislators’ desks with many wearing masks, though not everyone did, despite Gov. Ralph Northam’s recommendation late last month.

“All the Democrats seem to be wearing masks,” Plum told Reston Now by phone as he sat in the back of the chamber waiting for it to reconvene after a recess. “Many Republicans have chosen not to [wear masks].”

The General Assembly concluded the special session yesterday (Tuesday) after approving a host of new appeals court judges and a plan for spending $4.3 billion in federal aid.

The American Rescue Plan Act package included:

Additionally, $1.1 billion — about a quarter of the aid — is being left unappropriated in case those funds are needed later this fiscal year.

“We are getting monies out to communities and residents that need it,” Plum said.

In addition to allocating coronavirus relief funds, the General Assembly voted yesterday to confirm eight new judges to the Virginia Court of Appeals. That expands the number of seats on the court from 11 to 17, as the Commonwealth will allow appeals for all civil and criminal cases to the court for the first time.

The confirmations also make the Court of Appeals significantly more diverse by adding four Black judges and four female judges.

Several locals are now on the court, including Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Ortiz and Vernida Chaney, a former Fairfax County public defender.

“For the first time, this is no longer a white boys and girls’ club,” Plum said. “The appelate will look and feel like a justice system representing the full community.”

He noted that it was an “incredibly exhaustive effort” to vet and choose the right people after more than 80 candidates applied.

“That’s a lot, which is wonderful and means people are interested,” Plum said.

While Plum is comforted by being able to work again in person, he believes a hybrid approach would be ideal, allowing votes to be cast in person, for example, while public meetings and other activities that might draw people from far away can be conducted virtually.

“[Zoom] actually didn’t limit participation, but expanded it,” Plum said. “It wasn’t all bad and we shouldn’t give up on it entirely.”

via Martin Kraft/Wikimedia Commons

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Morning Notes

Radio control sailboat captains at Lake Anne (via vantagehill/Flickr)

Reston Woman Dies After Car Crash — Stephanie D. Garcia, 29, of Reston died at Fairfax Inova Hospital on Aug. 8 from injuries she sustained the previous day in a two-car crash on I-95 at the 169-mile marker in Springfield. Reportedly not wearing a seatbelt, Garcia was thrown from her car when another vehicle struck it head on while she was making a U-turn. The other driver was transported to a hospital for treatment of serious injuries. [Virginia State Police]

D.C. Restaurant Week Returns — The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s summer D.C. Restaurant Week kicked off yesterday (Monday) and will last through Sunday (Aug. 15), with many participants again offering to-go options. Reston-area venues include Founding Farmers, Makers Union, The Melting Pot, and more. [Viva Tysons]

Construction on Autumnwood Pickleball Courts Begins — “Construction has begun on the permanent pickleball courts at the Autumnwood Recreation facility. Pickleball players have been temporarily moved to courts 3 and 4. Tennis will no longer be played at Autumnwood until the new pickleball courts are finished in September. When construction has been completed, tennis will resume at Autumnwood.” [RA News]

General Assembly Approves COVID Relief Plan — “The General Assembly on Monday approved a spending plan for $4.3 billion in federal coronavirus relief money, with lawmakers leaving about $1.1 billion unappropriated so it is available for future needs if the pandemic worsens…The plan calls for using $800 million of the American Rescue Plan money to replenish the state’s unemployment trust fund, $700 million for rural broadband, $411 million on clean-water projects, $353 million for small-business relief and $250 million for school ventilation systems.” [The Washington Post]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

Morning Notes

Cattails by a lake (via vantagehill/Flickr)

Masks Now Required in County Facilities — “Beginning Monday, Aug. 9, all employees and visitors — regardless of vaccination status — will be required to wear a mask while inside all Fairfax County facilities to help stop the spread of COVID-19…The rise in COVID-19 cases has resulted in the Fairfax Health District moving from moderate to substantial community transmission. This is due to the on-going spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.” [Fairfax County Health Department]

Former FCPS Student Gets Olympic Gold — The U.S. finished first in the men’s 4×400 meter relay at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Saturday (Aug. 7), besting the Netherlands and Botswana. Former South County High School student Trevor Stewart helped Team USA reach the finals by leading the qualifying round on Friday (Aug. 6). He was not in the final heat but will still bring home a gold medal. [Olympics]

General Assembly Reaches Deal on COVID-19 Relief Spending — Virginia’s Senate and House will vote today (Monday) on a deal that negotiators reached late Friday for how to spend $4.3 billion in American Rescue Plan funds. Changes from Gov. Ralph Northam’s original plan include the addition of one-time bonuses to sheriff’s deputies, a boost to Medicaid rates for workers who serve individuals with disabilities, and a requirement that the Department of Motor Vehicles reopen for walk-in services that had been halted during the pandemic. [The Washington Post]

NoVA Science Center Eyes 2022 Groundbreaking — The Fairfax-based Children’s Science Center hopes to break ground next year on its long-planned Northern Virginia Science Center in Loudoun County. The project has expanded from its original design, necessitating a relocation to a site that will accommodate an “expansion wing with a dome theater for large-format films and potentially even a planetarium contemplated for a future phase.” [Washington Business Journal]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Morning Notes

Behind a townhome in Hickory Cluster (via vantagehill/Flickr)

Virginia General Assembly Convenes for Special Session — “The General Assembly returns on Monday to the Capitol it left 17 months ago as the coronavirus first gripped Virginia…Legislators meeting in a scheduled two-week special session have just two tasks on their to-do list, both highly consequential: allocating $4.3 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds and appointing a slew of judges to the state’s second-highest court.” [The Washington Post]

Fairfax County Man Arrested for Participating in Capitol Breach — “A Fairfax County, Virginia, man was arrested on six charges Thursday after a high school acquaintance tipped off the FBI about his alleged participation in the Capitol riot on January 6…[Luke Wessley] Bender faces six counts, including a felony count of obstruction of Congress that carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison.” [WUSA9]

Reston Community Center Candidate Filing Now Open — “Help your community by becoming a candidate for RCC’s Board of Governors. Candidate filing for the 2021 RCC Preference Poll is now open. Please download the candidate handbook and candidacy statement from our website and return by August 15.” [RCC/Facebook]

Reston Community Remembers Local Humanitarian — Described as a “pioneer, humanitarian, and entrepreneur,” longtime Reston resident Burton “Burt” Emmanuel Lamkin died on June 24 at the age of 86. Though he went to California a few years ago to be closer to family, he and his wife Kathryne were among the first African Americans to live in Reston when they moved there in 1966, and he was heavily involved in the Rotary Club of Herndon. [Connection Newspapers]

Photos: Reston Association Hosts Annual Tennis Tournament — “The 2021 Reston Simon Cup tennis tournament was held from mid through late July. Men’s and women’s singles and doubles matches were played at the Lake Newport tennis courts.” [RA/Facebook]

via vantagehill/Flickr

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Fairfax County is looking at imposing a tax on single-use plastic bags (via Daniel Romero/Unsplash)

Fairfax County took a first step yesterday toward potentially taxing plastic bags used by grocery stores and other retailers.

The Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 yesterday (Tuesday) to direct county staff to draft an plastic bag tax ordinance, but even supporters of the measure allowed that there remains some uncertainty around how exactly the tax would be implemented if approved.

“Let’s definitely try this, but we may end up back in the General Assembly in the foreseeable future to try to get clarification,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said, noting that the county is subject to the Dillon rule. “…This is probably a prime example of when we probably need a little more flexibility, but I’m all for it.”

The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation during its 2020 session giving localities the authority to impose a five-cent tax on disposable plastic bags, starting on Jan. 1, 2021.

Roanoke became the first jurisdiction to take advantage of the new law when it adopted an ordinance in May that’s set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

Under House Bill 534, which was identical to Senate Bill 11, cities and counties can tax each disposable plastic bag provided to customers by grocery stores, convenience stores, and drugstores. The tax would not apply to plastic bags designed to be reused, garbage bags, bags used to hold or package food to avoid damage or contamination, and ones used to carry prescription drugs or dry cleaning.

The legislation allows retailers to retain two cents from the imposed tax on each bag until Jan. 1, 2023, when the amount that goes to retailers drops to one cent.

That “dealer discount” provision is intended to help offset additional expenses retailers might incur from adjusting their operations, but it also puts added pressure on localities to adopt an ordinance as soon as possible, according to Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay.

“We want to start the process of the ordinance review, looking at the language, the public input, because the clock literally is ticking,” McKay said.

Complicating matters is the fact that the Virginia Department of Taxation has not yet released guidelines clarifying what a plastic bag tax ordinance should look like, leaving questions around the definition of a grocery or convenience store, how the tax will be enforced, and other issues, County Executive Bryan Hill told the board in a Nov. 30 memorandum.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, who introduced the board matter on Tuesday, said the draft guidance that county staff has seen and provided input on through the Northern Virginia Regional Commission will clear up many of those questions.

He hopes the guidelines will be finalized soon so county staff can incorporate them into the ordinance that they have now been directed to draft and present to the board in September.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, the lone Republican on the board, opposed the board matter, taking issue with the timing of the proposal. Read More

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Morning Notes

Inlet Court townhouses (via vantagehill/Flickr)

General Assembly to Hold Special Session in August — “Governor Ralph Northam today [Wednesday] issued a proclamation calling the members of the General Assembly into special session on Monday, August 2. A special session is necessary to fill judicial vacancies and allocate more than $4.3 billion in federal relief funding.” [Office of the Governor]

TJ Admissions Changes Result in Increased Diversity — The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology Class of 2025 will include more Black and Hispanic students, more girls, and more economically disadvantaged students than past years, according to Fairfax County Public Schools data. This is the first cohort to be admitted under a new admissions system that ditched the magnet school’s usual admissions test and $100 application fee. [The Washington Post]

Herndon Office Building Sold — The investment company Boyd Watterson Asset Management has purchased a 160,000 square-foot office building at 13651 McLearen Road for $48 million. The McLearen Center is in the same complex as the Transportation Security Administration’s Freedom Center and Nysmith School, and it counts Boeing as a long-term tenant, though the lease is set to expire in May 2022. [Washington Business Journal]

Reston Contractor Reports Medicaid Data Breach — Maximus Corp., a government health data services provider based in Reston, says a data breach that occurred between May 17 and 19 exposed the personal information of more than 334,000 Medicaid healthcare providers nationwide. The incident did not affect information about patients or Medicaid beneficiaries, according to the company. [Information Security Media Group]

Irish Rock Band Joins Arrowbrook Concert Lineup — The D.C.-based Irish rock band Scythian will perform at Arrowbrooke Centre Park in Herndon on July 17 as part of Fairfax County’s Music at Arrowbrook Centre concert series, one of several free summer concert series organized by the county park authority. [Fairfax County Park Authority]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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(Updated at 11:10 p.m.) Del. Ken Plum easily defeated his first primary opponent in more than two decades today (Tuesday), earning 75% of the vote, according to the Virginia Department of Elections’ unofficial results.

Plum has served as delegate for Virginia’s 34th House District, which encompasses Reston, since 1982, but he faced a rare Democratic challenger this year in data analyst and political newcomer Mary Barthelson, who announced her candidacy in March.

Plum will now face his first Republican challenger since 2011 in November’s general election, when he will vie for the seat with veteran and security consultant Matt Lang.

Herndon voters got a more competitive primary, as challenger Irene Shin eked out a victory in the 86th House District race over incumbent Del. Ibraheem Samirah, who was seeking his second full term in office.

After Fairfax County took a while to count absentee ballots, all 17 precincts were finally reported just after 11 a.m. Shin received 3,415 votes — or 51.7% — while Samirah got 3,185, or 48.3%, making the race the closest of the night that resulted in an incumbent defeat.

In the statewide races, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe handily won the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nomination, receiving more than 60% of the votes cast — roughly three times as many votes as his nearest competitor, former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, who was seeking to become Virginia’s first Black, female governor.

Carroll Foy received about 20% of the vote, followed in descending order by state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, and Del. Lee Carter, who also lost his seat representing the 50th House District.

McAuliffe will compete in November’s general election against businessman Glenn Youngkin, who won the Republican gubernatorial nomination in an “unassembled” convention in May.

The Democratic ticket will be completed by Del. Hala Ayala (D-51st District), who beat six other candidates to snag the lieutenant governor nomination, and Attorney General Mark Herring, who bested challenger Jay Jones as he seeks a third consecutive term in the position.

The Republican Party nominated former Del. Winsome Sears for lieutenant governor and Virginia Beach Del. Jason Miyares for attorney general.

In its unofficial returns, the Fairfax County Office of Elections reported a voter turnout of 11.1%, a relatively low rate that’s not especially unusual for an off-year primary. The 2017 Democratic primary, the last year with a gubernatorial race on the ballot, saw a 13.4% turnout.

According to the county, 21,493 voters — 2.9% of the electorate — cast absentee ballots either by mail or in-person, while 60,999 people went to the polls on the day of the primary. In comparison, the 2017 Democratic primary saw just 7,105 absentee voters compared to 86,931 primary day voters.

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Morning Notes

Virginia Raises Minimum Wage on May Day — Effective Saturday (May 1), Virginia’s minimum wage went up from $7.25 per hour to $9.50, the state’s first increase since 2009. Wages could rise to $15 in 2026, if approved by the General Assembly in 2024. Localities now also have the authority to adopt ordinances allowing collective bargaining with public employees. [DCist]

Twin Sheep Born at Frying Pan Farm Park — “Frying Pan Farm Park’s Suffolk ewe, Bristol, delivered the last of the sheep births that the farm will see this spring. Her twin ewes arrived April 11.” [Fairfax County Park Authority/Twitter]

Dulles Greenway Hosts First “Run the Greenway” Races — The first annual “Run the Greenway” race in Loudoun County attracted more than 1,400 runners and raised over $156,000 for 27 different area nonprofits on Saturday. The event featured 5K, 10K, and 800-meter Kids Fun Run races with staggered start times for social distancing as well as a virtual option. [Loudoun Now]

Porcupine Quills Seized at Dulles Airport — Customs and Border Protection seized 100 porcupine quills from a U.S. citizen who came to Dulles International Airport from Africa on April 21. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told CBP to seize the quills, because they are a potential vector for the monkeypox virus. [CBP]

The Water Mine Seeking New Lifeguards — The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole in Reston is hiring more than 150 lifeguards for the upcoming summer season. Several drive-thru, socially distanced job fairs will be held on site (1400 Lake Fairfax Drive) throughout May, with the first event coming on Friday (May 7) from 4-6 p.m. [Fairfax County Park Authority]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) 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.

Marijuana-related arrests 

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, Reston Now’s affiliate site, 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

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

During its Reconvened Session last week the General Assembly approved an amendment proposed by Governor Ralph Northam that decriminalizes the possession by adults of a small amount of marijuana effective July 1, 2021. Virginia joins 26 other states and the District of Columbia that have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. This generally means certain small, personal-consumption amounts are a civil or local infraction, not a state crime (or are a lowest misdemeanor with no possibility of jail time). Based on the new law in Virginia, adults can grow up to four plants, gift it in private, or have an ounce or less in their possession if they are over 21. Selling, buying, or driving with marijuana remains illegal at this time. People given a summons for possession for an amount beyond the minimum will be issued a summons for marijuana possession for which they have the option of prepaying the civil penalty of $25 instead of going to court.

I voted for the Governor’s amendments as necessary to reflect the realities of marijuana possession and use. The people of Virginia will be no less safe as a result of these changes. Our jails will be less full of persons who use marijuana recreationally for themselves, and persons who do so will not be labeled a criminal. Previously marijuana possession was a criminal offense punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or up to a $500 fine. Public opinion polls have shown that 83 percent of Virginians support lowering criminal possession to a fine and 61 percent support ending prohibition all together.

I also supported the changes in laws related to the use of medical cannabis in 2017. The law enacted at that time permitted patients suffering from intractable epilepsy to use some types of cannabis oil with a doctor’s certification. Subsequent amendments to that law allow patients with any condition to receive recommendations to use and purchase cannabis preparations with no more than 10 milligrams of THC per dose. Extracts sold under the provisions of this law must be produced by processors approved by the Virginia Board of Pharmacy. Thirty-three other states have similar laws related to the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Retail sales of marijuana will not begin until January 1, 2024. Many complex issues remain to be resolved as to who will be certified to sell the product, how an illicit market will be controlled, and what the limitations on purchasing will be. The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission issued a 175-page report in November 2020, entitled “Key Considerations for Marijuana Legalization” that sets direction with options as to how the state should proceed with full legalization. There is a determination on the part of most legislators that the current system for labeling persons criminal and putting them in jail is not appropriate and that total reform is needed. Minority communities have been particularly hard hit by the current system. Much work remains to be done, but I believe Virginia is taking a responsible route to fixing the laws about weed.

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

As we probably learned and as we teach our children, voting is the most important of civic duties. By choosing our leaders at election time and by deciding questions on referenda, we set the direction for our communities, states, and nation. Voting is a way to express our values and beliefs.

In one of the contradictions that strain the legitimacy of what we teach vs. what we do is to teach our children, proclaim in civic pronouncements and require for Scouting citizenship merit badges an acknowledgement of the importance of voting while at the same time making it difficult and sometimes impossible for some people to vote.

During the colonial period and early years of the state of Virginia, only white land-owners could vote. The Reconstruction era after the Civil War brought Black men into the electorate, but in a matter of decades that free access to voting was cut off by white supremacists who reasserted their power. An avowed purpose of writing a new constitution in 1902 was to disenfranchise Black men. It was successful in that the voting rolls were cut in half as most Blacks and poor whites were not able to make their way through the maze of requirements that one had to meet in order to vote. A blank sheet registration system and a $1.50 poll tax to be paid three years in a row at least six months before an election kept many from voting. White people in the upper crust of local society made it through these hurdles as the voting registrar who was part of the governing machine would provide them assistance while everyone else floundered at trying to get through the process.

Regardless of their race, women in this country have been able to vote for just over a hundred years, and that right came after incredible struggle. The Civil Rights era and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 opened up the electoral process for many Black people. Even now there are debates in the states about ways that access to the polls can be limited.

The Virginia General Assembly has put the Commonwealth on the path to supporting citizens carrying out their civic duty with several of the most progressive voting laws in the country. A headline in the New York Times last week proclaimed that “Virginia, the Old Confederacy’s Heart, Becomes a Voting Rights Bastion.” Over a fourteen-month period and two legislative sessions the General Assembly has passed and the Governor has signed bills to repeal a voter ID law, enact a 45-day no-excuse absentee voting period that permits early voting, made Election Day a holiday, and established a system for automatic voter registration for anyone who receives a Virginia driver’s license. The Virginia Voting Rights Act follows some of the provisions of the earlier federal law but applies to localities in the state to ensure that voting remains accessible.

In Virginia we will continue to say that voting is one of the most important of our civic duties, and now we will have a legal structure that demonstrates we believe it!

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Morning Notes

Marijuana Possession Will Soon Be Legal in Virginia — “The Virginia General Assembly agreed Wednesday to make it legal for adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana on July 1, nearly three years sooner than had been approved by the legislature in February.” [The Washington Post]

County Residents Share Thoughts on Police Chief Search — Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay and Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk hosted a public input session on Tuesday (April 6) as part of the county’s ongoing search for a permanent successor to retired Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. McKay said the board will hold interviews for the position over the next week. [WTOP]

Reston Delegate Holds Post-Session Town Hall — After the Virginia General Assembly adjourned yesterday, Del. Ken Plum and State Sen. Janet Howell are holding a virtual town hall meeting at 7 p.m. today to discuss the 2021 session. Anyone interested in attending can register in advance for the Zoom link and submit questions to [email protected] [Ken Plum]

Metro General Manager Calls Silver Line Phase 2 “A Priority” — Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld declined to commit to a “hard start date” for when the Silver Line’s second phase will open, but he told the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance yesterday “want to get that out as quick as we can” because of the potential impact on ridership and the region’s economic development. [WTOP]

Democratic Candidates for Governor Spar in First Televised Debate — Five candidates vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination to become Virignia’s next governor discussed the pandemic, gun violence, and criminal justice reform during an hour-long event hosted by Virginia State University in Petersburg. [Virginia Mercury]

Reston Company Lands Billions in Defense Contracts — “On the heels of an $830 million U.S. Army contract won in February, Reston-based Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) has landed two more Army contracts worth a combined $4.4 billion, it announced today.” [Virginia Business]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Virginia made history last week: The Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam signed the bill that made Virginia the first state in the south and the 23rd state in the nation to end the death penalty! I made the nearly four-hour trip to the Greenville Correctional Center in Jarrett where the “death chamber” is located to be at this momentous occasion when another of my legislative goals was realized.

While some have justified the death penalty as an appropriate “eye for an eye” punishment and a deterrent for other crimes, the history of the death penalty is much more complex. Virginia executed more people than any other state having executed 1,390 people over its 413 years. Its uneven application among the states and within the state itself is astounding. Virginia executed 94 women over its history, twice as many as the state with the next most executions of women. Of those, 78 were Black, 11 were White and five were of unknown race. Sixteen children below the age of 18 were executed including a slave girl about 12 years old who was hung in 1825. In 2005 the United States Supreme Court declared that the execution of those under the age of 18 at the time of their crime was cruel and unusual punishment and hence unconstitutional. It followed an earlier decision in a Virginia case that found that executing an intellectually disabled person as the state was poised to do was unconstitutional.

Until the first electrocution in 1908, executions in Virginia were carried out by hanging making them not unlike the lynchings of Blacks that had occurred throughout the South. From 1900 until the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1977 for crimes in which no one was killed, Virginia executed 73 Black defendants for rape, or attempted or armed robbery that did not result in death, while no White defendants were executed for those crimes.

Other numbers show how the death penalty was more an act of White supremacy than for public safety. Between 1900 and 1999, there were 377 executions and of those 296 were Black persons and 79 White persons. For murder there were 304 executions, 223 Black and 79 White persons. For rape 48 Black persons and for attempted rape 20 Black persons executed, and in both instances no White persons were executed.

One of the most unbelievable stories in the history of the death penalty in Virginia was the execution of five Black defendants on February 2, 1951, and the execution of two more Black men on February 5, 1951, accused of raping a White woman. An all-White jury meted out the punishment after trials that lasted one day per defendant.

We cannot rewrite this dark chapter of Virginia’s history, but we must learn from it. Too many laws in the past were written to maintain White supremacy rather than protect the public equally. The General Assembly has made major strides at ridding the Code of Jim Crow laws. We can see the repeal of the death penalty as a major step in moving Virginia forward as a more just state.

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