Category Archives: Courts and law

Altria rumored to be in talks to buy Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group

High in Henrico.  Henrico County based Altria, makers of Marlboro cigarettes among other products, is rumored to be interested in buying Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group.  Altria is refusing comment while Cronos said it “confirmed that it is engaged in discussions concerning a potential investment by Altria Group … in Cronos Group.”  Cronos went on to say that no agreement had been reached and there is no assurance that the discussions will lead to a deal.

Is that really a maple leaf on the flag?  Canada legalized possession of marijuana nationally effective October 17, 2018.  Under the national law provinces have some latitude regarding specific cannabis regulation.   In Quebec and Alberta, the legal age is 18; it’s 19 in the remainder of the country for example.  However, unlike the United States, there is no dichotomy between national and provincial (state) law.  There can be no doubt that this legal clarity is encouraging companies like Altria to consider entering the Canadian marijuana market while sitting on the sidelines of American states which have legalized grass.

Implications for Virginia.  Pot legislation and the business of selling pot is moving quickly in North America.  In November Michigan became the tenth US state to legalize possession of marijuana.  There is legislation pending for the 2019 General Assembly session to decriminalize marijuana in the Old Dominion.  Now an iconic and politically connected Virginia-based company apparently sees no moral or ethical issue with participating in Canada’s legal marijuana market.  Given that Altria’s board includes Virginia luminaries such as Thomas F Farrell, CEO of Dominion and John T Casteen, former President of UVA one wonders if Altria’s plans might lend respectability to marijuana reform in Virginia.

I smell refund.  In 2018 a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana (SB 111) was defeated along party lines in the Courts of Justice.  Nine Republican state senators voted against the bill.  Over the years all nine have received campaign contributions from Altria.  Given that these nine politicians see marijuana possession as a serious crime one would hope they will return these campaign contributions given that Altria is trying to engage in marijuana production, distribution and sale.  After all, is it moral to keep money contributed by a company engaging in practices you think should be illegal?  Here are the amounts (per VPAP):

Obenshain – $44,250
Norment – $128,433
McDougle – $58,000
Stuart – $8,500
Stanley – $9,500
Reeves – $28,265
Chafin – $1,500
Sturtevant – $8,000
Peake – $500

— Don Rippert

Marijuana arrests and racism in Virginia (especially Arlington County)

Reefer madness.  The upcoming debate in the Virginia General Assembly over decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana may have racial overtones.  VCU Capital News Service studied the data for marijuana arrests in Virginia from 2010 through 2016.  African Americans were 3.2 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana crimes than whites.  At the same time separate research shows almost no difference in marijuana use between white and black Americans.  Across America it’s even worse.  Nationally, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for a marijuana crime than a white person.

Location, location, location.  VCU Capital News Service breaks down the data by locality.  You can find the numbers here.  The only jurisdictions where the per capita arrest rate for whites is higher than blacks are those counties where the population is so low that a single arrest can make a statistical difference.  Highland County, for example, averaged 13 African American residents over the study’s time period and none of the 13 were arrested for marijuana crimes.  Two white people (out of about 2,200) were arrested for marijuana crimes in Highland County.  In all of Virginia’s populous localities the African American arrest rate was notably higher than the corresponding rate for white people.  In Hanover County for example, blacks were arrested at a frequency 6.3 times that of whites.

Libtopia.  Anybody who has ever been to Arlington County knows that safe spaces are mandated by the building codes, snowflakes can be seen in July and rainbow colored unicorns prance in the bike lanes.  It’s a progressive paradise.  So it probably comes as a surprise that African Americans were more than eight times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana crimes in Arlington from 2010 – 2016.  Arlington County’s Board has five Democrats, no Republicans and no independents.  The lone independent (John Vihstadt) was defeated in November.  How is it possible for the Lions of Libtopia to turn a blind eye to rampant racism occurring in their social justice warrior wonderland?

The Hook is dope.  If you do want to posses marijuana you ought to consider residing in the City of Charlottesville (25 total arrests per 100,000 residents) rather than the City of Emporia (1,595 total arrests per 100,000 residents).  You are 64 times more likely to get a reefer bust in Emporia than in Charlottesville.  Does anybody think that the people of Emporia use marijuana 64 times more often than the people in Charlottesville?  In fairness, I95 comprises about 1/2 of the border of Emporia so many of the arrests may be people using that highway.  However, Falls Church (51) vs Fairfax City (589) makes one wonder.

Unfair at any speed.  As the General Assembly considers decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana it should also consider the fairness of the present system.  Vast differences are observable in the enforcement of marijuana laws across race and location.  In locality after locality you are more likely to be arrested for marijuana if you are black vs white.  The City of Charlottesville (pop 45k) made 11 marijuana related arrests from 2010 through 2016, fewer than 2 per year.  The City of Danville (pop 43k) made 354 arrests over the same period, over 50 per year.

— Don Rippert

2019 General Assembly Session – Amending the State Constitution

Lucky number seven.  Virginia has rewritten its original constitution (1776) six times thus making our current constitution (1971) the seventh state constitution.  While there is no serious movement afoot to get to the eighth constitution there are plenty of carry over, first reference and first resolution bills that propose to modify our present constitution.

Right to vote.  HJ578, Keam D-Vienna (first reference).  Provides there is a right to vote and requires the Commonwealth to provide all resources necessary to assist qualified voters in the exercise of their right to vote.

Redistricting Commission.  HJ 582, Heretick, D-Portsmouth (first reference).  Establishes a 13 member Virginia Redistricting Commission.

Governor’s term of office.  HJ584, Keam D-Vienna (first reference).  Permits governor to succeed himself or herself in office.  Permits two terms, either in succession or not.  Prohibits a third term.

Joint election of Governor and Lt Governor.  HJ585, Keam D-Vienna (first reference).  Joint election of Governor and Lt Governor.  Both candidates to appear jointly on the ballot similar to the US president and Vice President.

Reapportionment after redistricting.  HJ591, Cole – R-Fredricksburg (first reference).  Reapportionment of legislative electoral districts following census-based redistricting.  Limited to getting districts to coincide with voting precincts.

Definition of marriage.  SJ1, Ebbin – D – Alexandria (carry over).  Repeals language defining marriage as”only a union between one man and one woman” based on ruling oif US Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).  Legislation refiled as first reference under SJ251.

Qualifications for Governor.  SJ2, Chase – R – Midlothian (carry over).  Increases from five to eight years the time a person must be a resident of Virginia before becoming eligible to be governor.  Legislation refiled as first reference under SJ252 and as a first resolution under SR82.

General Assembly term limits.  SJ3, Chase – R – Midlothian (carry over).  Limits members of the Senate to three full terms and members of the House of Delegates to six full terms.  Legislation refiled as first reference under SJ253 and as a first resolution under SR83.

Restoration of right to vote for non-violent felons.  SJ5, Lucas – D – Portsmouth (first reference).  Allows the General Assembly to enact a law automatically restoring the right to vote for non-violent felons who have completed their sentences.

Governor’s term of office (see also HJ584).  SJ8, Ebbin – D- Alexandria (carry over).  Permits governor to succeed himself or herself in office.  Permits two terms, either in succession or not.  Prohibits a third term.  Legislation refiled as first reference under SJ250.

Qualifications to vote.  SJ9, Locke – D – Hampton (carry over).  Removes restrictions on the right to vote from those convicted of a felony or adjudicated to be mentally incompetent.

Qualifications to vote.  SJ12, Lucas – D – Portsmouth (carry over).  See SJ9 (above).

Virginia Redistricting Commission.  SJ25, Hanger – R – Augusta (carry over).  Established seven member redistricting commission.  Establishes standards to remain in compliance with state constitution requirements for districts.

Restoration of right to vote for felons.  SJ27, Hanger – R – Augusta (carry over). Allows General Assembly to legislate automatic restoration of right to vote for felons who have completed their sentences other than in cases of “barrier crimes” (to be defined by the General Assembly).

Virginia Redistricting Commission.  SJ34, Barker – D – Alexandria (carry over).  Establishes an eight member redistricting commission.

Seized drug assets used to promote law enforcement.  SJ39, Reeves – R – Fredericksburg (carry over).  Proceeds from the sale of forfeited property for drug offenses be paid into the state treasury and distributed for the purpose of promoting law enforcement, the purpose of promoting law enforcement shall be as defined by general law.

Virginia Redistricting Commission.  SJ51, Deeds – D – Bath (first resolution).  See HJ582 (above).

Criteria for electoral districts.  SJ68, Vogel – R – Warrenton (first reference).  Provides criteria for drawing electoral districts including “contiguous and compact” territory.

Political reform.  SJ258, Chase – R – Midlothian (first reference).  Prohibits the establishment of electoral districts that intentionally or unduly favor or disfavor any political party and requires the General Assembly to regulate the role of money in elections and governance to ensure transparency, to prevent corruption, and to protect against the buying of access to or influence over elected officials.

— Don Rippert.

2019 General Assembly Session – Privatizing Public Roads in McLean, Va

Judge Dillon’s revenge.  Development vs transportation has been a long running battle in Virginia. Northern Virginia’s local government  politicians never met a developer (or developer’s campaign contribution) they didn’t love. Virginia’s state legislators love NoVa growth since it provides more state tax money to spread around like party favors to their downstate constituencies. However, those same state legislators loathe the idea of repatriating many of those tax dollars back to Northern Virginia to fund needed transportation improvements. The local pols blame the state pols for failing to fund transportation in NoVa. The state pols blame the locals for ineffective land use planning. Meanwhile, both localities and the state are throwing their shoulders out of joint patting themselves on the back over winning half of the new Amazon HQ2 deal. There have even been rumors that Apple may be looking at NoVa for another 20,000 jobs. What could possibly go wrong?

No need to wait for chaos. While Amazon HQ2, Apple and the “densificiation” of Tysons are all largely future events, the chaos of underfunded transportation is already here. Loudoun County’s population grew 97% between 1990 and 2000, 84% from 2000 to 2010 and 27.5% from 2010 to 2017.  Meanwhile, over 50% of Loudoun workers commute to work outside of Loudoun County (hint: they are not working in West Virginia). At the same time, a veritable caravan of immigrants from The Socialist Republic of Maryland cross the Virginia border every morning seeking a better life through employment in Virginia. The predictable result is that the American Legion Bridge has become a chokepoint that backs up the Beltway for miles, especially in the evening.

Adding insult to injury. The same kind of advanced technology that so enthralls Virginia’s politicians in the HQ2 deal creates nightmares for McLean residents. Navigation apps like Waze and Google Maps are being blamed for showing Loudon commuters and Maryland economic refugees how to bypass Beltway traffic by using the surface streets of McLean. The resulting backups on streets that are often narrow and shoulder-less wreak havoc on the daily lives of those living in the affected neighborhoods. One can only wonder how much worse this will get once the new construction in Tysons is completed and Amazon HQ2 starts adding traffic to Arlington, Alexandria and Tysons.

It’s good to be Queen. Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-McLean, has a plan.  Privatize McLean’s public streets for the exclusive use of McLean residents, at least during rush hour. Murphy’s HB295 has been carried over from the 2018 session. The bill is summarized as follows …

“Allows counties that operate under the urban county executive form of government (Fairfax County) by ordinance to develop a program to issue permits to residents of a designated area that will allow such residents to make turns into or out of the neighborhood during certain times of the day where such turns would otherwise be restricted.”

It seems Del. Murphy will protect herself and her well-heeled neighbors in McLean by simply banning traffic she finds inconvenient. Let the commuters eat cake. It’s easy to feel sympathy for the residents of the many areas in Northern Virginia being ruined by clogged streets full of cut through traffic. However, it’s hard to see where this ends. Will the far less affluent citizens of the Route 1 corridor be able to ban cut through traffic on their streets too? Or will this remedy be reserved for Del. Murphy and her wealthy neighbors in McLean?  Limousine liberalism anyone?

Correction: HB295 was incorrectly described as pre-filed in the original version of this article. In fact, it was carried over from the 2018 session.  The content has been changed to reflect this correction.  

— Don Rippert

2019 General Assembly Session – Sports Betting Legislation Prefiled

Republican General Assembly Member

I’ll take the Giants by 2.  Sports betting was made illegal in the United States through the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA). The legislation was signed into law by George H.W. Bush.

I’ll bet the Supreme Court overturns PASPA. Had you made that bet you would have won. In May, 2018 the US Supreme Court ruled PASPA unconstitutional. The high court decided that individual states should be able to decide for themselves whether to allow sports betting.

What’s the line on the Virginia game? Del Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax County, has pre-filed HB1638 to make sports betting legal in Virginia. However, the line on Virginia would not be applicable since all Virginia collegiate and professional teams would excluded from legalized sports betting. Sickles legislation would only authorize online betting and would allow for a maximum of five licensees with a revenue tax of 15%.

Party Boy Petersen. On the Senate side Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, has publicly stated that he will also introduce legislation making sports betting legal in Virginia. Petersen’s promised 2019 sports betting legislation would add public places as legal betting sites in addition to Sickle’s online venues.  As Petersen told the Virginia Mercury, “I’m not interested in people sitting in their parents’ basement with their pajamas on betting on a ‘Monday Night Football’ game, I want this to be part of a social entertainment package where people get out and spend money.” Party on, Chap!

What’s the vig? Oxford Economics estimates an annual $5.2 billion betting handle with $380 million in net revenue.  The state’s 15% would come to $60 million per year. Since the Virginia State Lottery would administer the sports betting, the lotto gang would also take a cut of the action. The rest would go to research projects at state universities under the Sickles approach but would become aid to Virginia community colleges under the Petersen plan.

The odds of passage  I’m going to go with 3-1 against passage of this legislation in 2019. I predict that the usual gang of ossified, conservative, downstate Republican legislators who wax poetic about the importance of liberty will block Virginians from having the liberty to make sports bets.

— Don Rippert.

Va 2019 General Assembly session – prefiled House of Delegates bills

Click here to see the 9 weird laws

Much ado about nothing.  As of this morning there were 83 prefiled bills for the House of Delegates and 225 prefiled bills for the State Senate.  With a few exceptions the House prefiles are pretty “ho hum”.  I will examine the Senate prefiles in a subsequent column.

One from column A and two from column B.  I use a somewhat arbitrary approach to categorizing the prefiled bills.  By my analysis … governmental process (17), education (12), crime and courts (10), election reform (8), finance and taxes (7), health care (6), nonsense (6), environment (6), transportation (4), campaign reform (4) and energy (2).

Governmental process.  These are the day to day clarifications, corrections and amplifications needed to make existing legislation more effective.  For example, HB246 clarifies the role of the code commission in preparing legislation at the direction of the General Assembly.  One of these bills will further depress Jim Bacon’s journalistic sensibilities.  HB1629 eliminates the requirement that Virginia procurement contracts be reported in newspapers.  Mixed in with the proposed routine legislation are some zingers.  For example, there are three separate bills to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (HJ577, HJ579, HJ583).  There are also four bills proposing changes  to the Virginia Constitution.  HJ578 would add a right to vote to the state constitution, HJ582 would establish a redistricting committee, HJ584 would allow the governor to run for a second consecutive term and HJ585 has the governor and lieutenant governor running as a single ticket instead of separate offices.

Education.  The only theme in the education prefiles is an attempt to provide financial incentives for localities to rebuild the physical plant of their schools.  One of the more interesting bills would allow commercial advertising on school buses (HB809) while another would guarantee that our children’s God given right to wear unscented sun block not be abridged (HB330).

Crime and courts.  Bail bondsmen and bondswomen are forbidden from having sex with their clients (HB525) and shooting a police dog, or even showing a gun to a police dog,  becomes a more serious crime (HB1616).  Other than that, pretty mundane stuff.

Finance and taxes.  Way too many people and too many companies are paying taxes (HB966) and veterinarians really need a break from those pesky sales taxes (HB747).

Potpourri.  The remaining categories contain a few interesting ideas.  Del Rasoul wants to ban the use of fossil fuels in electricity generation (HB1635), Del Cole wants to give I95 some love (HJ580, HJ581) and he also has the radical idea that campaign contributions should not be for personal use (HB1617).  In fact, Del Cole’s proposed legislation is putting him perilously close to making my very short list of competent Virginia legislators.

Closer to home.  My delegate, Kathleen Murphy, continues to propose jaw dropping, eye popping examples of legislative uselessness.  She proposes to let her pals skirt Virginia traffic laws by displaying a special sticker on their cars (HB295) and offers some odd rules on distance learning reciprocity (HB659).  I guess issues like mass transportation don’t cross her mind these days.

— Don Rippert.

Virginia to Consider New Marijuana Decriminalization bill in 2019 General Assembly Session

If at first you don’t succeed … State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) has pre-filed a 2019 bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Virginia. The matter will be taken up in the General Assembly session in early 2019.  Last year Ebbin patroned a similar bill that was defeated 9-6 in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee along party lines.

Still illegal.  The new Ebbin bill, like the one in 2018, proposes to decriminalize (rather than legalize) the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the Old Dominion. The law presently in place provides for a maximum $500 fine and up to a 30 day jail term for the first offense.  Penalties escalate for subsequent offenses. Ebbin’s proposed bill makes possession of a small amount of marijuana a civil offense with fines of $50 to $250 depending on a variety of circumstances such as whether it was the first offense or a subsequent offense.

Another loser for the RPV / GOP.  The vast majority of Americans and Virginians support the decriminalization of marijuana. In fact, a notable majority of Americans and Virginians go so far as to support legalization of marijuana. Yet the supposedly liberty loving, regulation hating Republican Party has done everything it can to oppose both decriminalization and legalization. As previously mentioned, the nine Republicans on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee blocked full house consideration of Sen Ebbin’s bill in 2018. At the national level it’s much the same. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has written a “Blueprint to Legalize Marijuana” .  It’s a pretty simple plan … take control of the House then enact marijuana reform. Up until now that blueprint was blocked by the House Rules Committee led by its chairman, Pete Sessions (R-TX).  But things are different now that the Democrats have taken control of the house.  Plant prohibitionists like Rep Sessions are no longer calling the shots.

2019. Another year, another marijuana decriminalization bill in the Virginia General Assembly. What will become of SB997 in 2019? My guess is for a repeat of 2018 with Republicans killing the bill in committee.

Demographic changes? There has been a lot of discussion about the recent federal election on this blog. Much has been made of how the success of Democrats in Virginia is an inevitable consequence of demographics and the influx of those from outside Virginia. Some have even taken to calling Virginia the southernmost northeastern state. Balderdash. The real problem is that Virginia’s Republican politicians and the RPV are clueless. The question of marijuana reform crosses demographic boundaries. Middle-aged adults are using marijuana at an increasing rate. Last year, all nine of the Republicans on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted to block the decriminalization bill. At the same time 76% of the Virginians these Republicans claim to represent support marijuana decriminalization. Meanwhile, arrests in Virginia for marijuana rose 20% in the last year. Arrests for a “crime” that more than three quarters of Virginians don’t think should be a crime are skyrocketing while the aged political elite in the RPV blocks so much as a full vote on the matter. I wonder why the Republicans keep losing in Virginia? It has far more to due with a lack of competence than a change in demographics.

— Don Rippert

Virginia’s 2018 Marijuana Decriminalization Bill: What Happened and What’s Next?

Up in smoke.  During the 2018 General Assembly session a bill to decriminalize marijuana was killed in committee.  The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted along party lines on that bill, SB 111. All nine Republican Senators on the Committee voted to keep marijuana possession (in any amount) a criminal act in Virginia while all six Democratic Senators voted to decriminalize pot.  To be clear – the vote was to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, it was not a bill that proposed legalizing marijuana.

Here today, here tomorrow.  Decriminalization foes won the SB111 battle in 2018 but the war goes on.  The lines are drawn for the next skirmish.  As Sen Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham), who voted against decriminalization, said … “It’s an issue that isn’t going away.  We’re going to be talking about it for a long time.”  That’s an interesting comment from a prohibitionist.  One can only hope that Sen Obenshain knows that time and further dialog are both working against him and his fellow pot prosecutors.  If he doesn’t understand that I’d really like to ask him what he’s been smoking.

Abby Hoffman vs Barney Fife.  The main support for decriminalization comes from the ACLU with a supporting cast of politicians including U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (federal decriminalization), Governor Ralph Northam (a medical doctor) and Adam Ebbin  (D-Alexandria).  Opposition is led by the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys with political support from the aforementioned Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham).

Arrested development.  Subsequent to the committee vote on decriminalization, statistics were released that revealed arrests for marijuana possession in Virginia shot up in 2017, increasing by 20% over 2016.  Apparently, prosecuting Virginians for possession of a plant is a large and fast growing business in the Commonwealth.  One can only guess how much criminalizing marijuana costs Virginia or how many Commonwealth’s Attorneys have jobs based on pot possession being a crime.

Oh wow … what’s a voter … man?  A poll on the question of decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana in Virginia was published in the midst of the 2018 General Assembly session.  Conducted by the Watson Center for Public Policy and Christopher Newport University, the poll found that 76% of Virginians favored decriminalization.  And the Republican politicians in Virginia keep wondering why they are continually losing their power and influence in Virginia.  Perhaps they would be well advised to just roll that number around in their heads for a while … seventy-six percent.

Heroes.  Senators voting for decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana: Creigh Deeds, D-Bath; John Edwards, D-Roanoke; Janet Howell, D-Fairfax; Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth; Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City; and Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax.

Zeroes.  Senators voting against decriminalization: Ben Chafin, R-Russell; Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover; Tommy Norment, R-Mars; Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham; Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg; Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania; Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County; Richard Stuart, R-Stafford; and Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond.

2019.  2019 is an election year for Virginia’s state legislature.  Democrats will push another marijuana decriminalization bill in the 2019 General Assembly session.  Then they will beat the Republicans who opposed the bill over the head with those votes in November.

— Don Rippert.

The case for legalizing recreational marijuana use in Virginia

Caveat.  While I have no moral objection to the possession of marijuana I do not espouse breaking the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  I believe the marijuana laws in Virginia should be changed but, until they are changed, I encourage everybody to obey the laws as they are presently written.

Strive for five.  I believe the five key reasons for legalizing recreational marijuana use in Virginia for adults are liberty, the failure of the current approach, costs of enforcement – both financially and in terms of racial bias, the economic benefits to the state and the inevitability of legalization.  Each will be discussed in turn.

Democracy, liberty and freedom.  The first and most important reason to legalize recreational marijuana use in Virginia is philosophical.  Our political leaders in Richmond speak in hushed, reverential voices about “Mister Jefferson”.  They then turn around and ignore the fact that a significant majority of Virginians favor legalizing marijuana.  Somehow, our political leaders seem to think that banning a plant against the wishes of a majority of the electorate is commensurate with Thomas Jefferson’s ideals of democracy, liberty and freedom.  Perhaps our General Assembly should start referring to Thomas Jefferson as “ole what’s his name” until they can demonstrate some willingness to adhere to Jefferson’s actual views on liberty, etc.

Pot prohibition has failed.  Federal, state and local efforts to make and keep marijuana use illegal have not curtailed its use.  Our government has been busily trying to ban marijuana since 1937 and raised the stakes considerably with the Controlled Substances Act (which became effective in 1971).   Nearly 50 years after the federal government made marijuana a Schedule 1 “narcotic” its use continues to rise.

Enforcement and racial bias.  The enforcement costs needed to continue the ineffective prohibition of pot are very high.  In Virginia authorities have made 133,000 arrests for marijuana possession over the past 10 years.  10,000 Virginians are convicted of a first time marijuana possession offense every year. In fact, marijuana arrests in Virginia increased over the past year.  Worse yet, the arrests are heavily weighted against African-Americans.  VCU studied the data in 2015.  As NORML calls out, “That study concluded that blacks account for nearly half of all marijuana possession arrests, but comprise only 20 percent of the state population.”  Some parts of Virginia are far worse than that.  “In some counties and towns, such as in Hanover County and in Arlington, Virginia, the black arrest rate was six to eight times that of whites.”  These arrest ratios completely diverge from studies showing that marijuana use is roughly the same between backs and whites.

Economics.  The Kansas City Federal Reserve studied the economic impact of marijuana legalization on the state of Colorado … “In 2017, the state of Colorado collected more than $247 million from the marijuana industry, including state sales taxes on recreational and medical, special sales taxes on recreational, excise taxes on recreational and application and licenses fees.”  Given that Virginia’s population is 42% bigger than Colorado’s a straight line interpolation would suggest $353m in annual taxes in Virginia.  That total does not count the savings from reduced law enforcement nor does it include the potential profit generated for the state if the legal marijuana were sold through Virginia ABC stores.

Inevitability.  Nine states and DC have legalized marijuana.  Michigan and North Dakota will vote on adult use marijuana legalization this November.  This week the entire country of Canada legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  Once again Virginia is being surrounded by progress and once again Virginia is standing slack jawed and rheumy eyed as a philosophical island of obstinate resistance to inevitable change.

– Don Rippert.

Good News Story: Richmond’s Murder Arrest Rate

Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham — winning everybody’s confidence.

The City of Richmond’s school system leaves a lot to be desired, a fact I have belabored on this blog, but the city’s Police Department is doing a great job of fighting crime — so good that the Washington Post profiled the Richmond P.D. as an exemplar in closing murder cases.

Nationally, there have been 50,000 homicides in major American cities since 2007. Of those, 26,000 have not resulted in an arrest. But of the 50 cities studied, Richmond has the highest homicide arrest rate. The police have closed 70% of all murder cases. Writes the Post:

That outcome, police officials said, is the result of persistent community outreach that has helped encourage witnesses to cooperate.

“If I’m in the city, I’m at every scene,” said Chief Alfred Durham, a former D.C. police officer who has led Richmond’s department since early 2015. “People in the community need to see members of our command staff engaging and doing everything possible to close each case. . . . We’re out there building relationships.”

Detectives said they have worked hard to gain the confidence of potential witnesses by assuring that police will do all they can to protect them if they come forward.

The high arrest rate represents a significant turn-around from 12 years ago when Richmond had won the reputation as a mini-murder capital. After an overhaul of the department, murder rates have declined and arrest rates have soared.

While Richmond is among the smallest of the 50 cities studied, it has tremendous concentrations of poverty — with all the social pathologies that concentrated poverty creates. Little has changed economically or demographically that might explain the exceptional murder clearance rate. The improvement results from good community policing.

The building of trust between police and communities also is reflected in the different tenor of politics in the city. Not to say that there isn’t a racial divide over issues like Civil War statues, but Richmond doesn’t have the same kind of hyper-polarized racial animus seen in places like Baltimore and Chicago. That makes it a lot easier for someone like African-American Mayor Levar Stoney to govern as a moderate liberal — with an emphasis on the moderate. Now… if only some of that positive mojo can rub off on the city schools.

(Hat tip: Steve Nash)

Getting Virginians their Lives Back One License at a Time

LaPonda Carter lived with a relative in Amelia County, raising her daughter and driving to her job at the VCU Medical Center in downtown Richmond. She frequently loaned her car to the family member. Unbeknownst to her, the relative racked up frequent toll violations. The charges quickly added up — $0.75 per toll, plus $25 administrative fees for not paying on time, plus $500 court fines, plus court costs. The fees, fines and penalties eventually reached an astonishing total — nearly $100,000. Adding insult to injury, Carter had her license yanked.

By working with Drive-to-Work, a Richmond-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping lower-income Virginians get their driving rights restored, she managed to get her licensed reinstated. Now Drive-to-Work is working with her to resolve the toll-violation cases.

Virginia law allows for the suspension of revocation of driver’s licenses for a wide variety of offenses that have nothing to do with bad driving — collecting court costs, non-payment of civil judgments, and failure to pay child support. Of Virginia’s 5.8 million licensed drivers, 974,000 are under suspended-license orders. While some kind of sanction may be called upon for their offenses, says Drive-to-Work President Randy Rollins, a person deprived of a driver’s license often is unable to work and meet the very obligations the suspended licenses are meant to punish.

Ten years ago when Rollins first approached members of the General Assembly to reform the laws, he typically got a frosty reception. But attitudes are changing among both liberals and conservatives, he says. Restoring drivers licenses increasingly is seen as an issue that both advances social justice and supports individual responsibility and self-help.

The nonprofit group operates first and foremost to help people like Carter get their licenses back and work out arrangements so they can pay their fees, fines and penalties. Case workers have helped more than 2,000 individual clients to date. In a related initiative staffed by volunteer attorneys, Drive-to-Work has given 96 prison seminars to help offenders get their licenses when they are released from custody.

Rollins also is working with the Department of Corrections (DOC) to remove another potential impediment — the need to attend a driver improvement clinic before getting a license reinstated. What better time to attend such a clinic, he asks, than when offenders have lots of free time in prison? Drive-to-Work will deliver a clinic online for $65 per participant, a sum that will be reduced to $20 after DOC and Drive-to-Work subsidies. That program is temporarily in limbo up as DOC undertakes the migration of its IT systems to the state’s new vendor, but Rollins is optimistic the issues will be worked out soon.

In the meantime, Rollins, who served as Secretary of Public Safety during the Wilder administration, is working to help lawmakers identify ways to help the cause. He highlights one piece of successful legislation and two additional measures that he would like to see passed.

Pay plans for court fees. Millions of Virginians live paycheck to paycheck, and they don’t have a spare $1,000 to pay court fines and fees. Rather than suspend their licenses, making it harder to work and pay back anything, a law sponsored by Republican Del. Manoli Loupassi allowed for repaying the fines in agreed-upon installments and restoring the license when the agreement was signed, not later when the fines were paid in full.

After a year’s experience, says Rollins, the law appears to be making a difference. Judges are considering individual circumstances when setting payment agreements, many are requiring lower down payments, and a 10-day grace period is preventing defaults.

Suspensions for civil judgments. If a motorist drives a car while uninsured and causes an accident, his or her license can be suspended for failure to pay civil judgments to the insurance companies. While Rollins agrees that there should be sanctions against people who fail to pay, he says suspending their licenses for reasons unrelated to safety violations makes no sense. The license suspension is just another collection tool. If you owe a hospital money, the hospital can’t suspend your license. If you default on your credit card, the card company can’t suspend your license. Why should insurance companies be treated differently?

Child support payments. Licenses can be suspended for failure to pay child support. Child support obligations can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. While the courts do allow payment plans, the minimum down payment is too high, Rollins argues. A $20,000 obligation, for instance, would require a 5% down payment or $600, whichever was higher — often beyond the means of the poor and near poor. Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, sponsored a bill last year that would have set the obligation at the lower of 5% or $600. The bill was defeated last year.

“Suspensions for child support have nothing to do with traffic safety,” says Rollins. In fact the suspension can be a barrier to gainful employment and reduce the chances for paying any child support.”

Legalized Medical and Recreational Marijuana Use Appear to Hurt Alcohol Sales

High times.  In a recent Bacon’s Rebellion column … Will Virginia Legalize Recreational Marijuana Use … I noted that well over 20% of Americans now live in states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  In the column I wondered whether our General Assembly’s reluctance to address the question in a meaningful way might be attributable to Virginia’s unholy trinity of political corruption:

  1. Unlimited campaign contributions
  2. Opposition by well heeled vested interests (i.e., the alcohol manufacturing, distribution and retail industry)
  3. Essentially non-existent rules on the use of, or reporting on, campaign contributions

My hypothesis was that a river of money flows from Virginia’s alcohol industry into the pockets of our elected officials.  The alcohol industry is opposed to legalizing marijuana since legalization hurts alcohol sales.  Meanwhile, our elected officials want to keep the money flow going since it funds not only their re-election plans but also dinners at Bookbinders, golf outings, private clubs and all sorts of other goodies.  Therefore, legalization of marijuana is intentionally stalled in Virginia.  Virginia’s reputation as America’s Most Corrupt State is, in my opinion, well established.  However, the question of whether legalized marijuana use hurts alcohol sales needs to be further examined.

Paging Doctor Weed.  The best information about the impact of marijuana legalization on alcohol sales comes from studies of medical marijuana legalization.  Medical marijuana has been legalized for longer and in more states than recreational marijuana.  Some would say that medical marijuana is a poor proxy for recreational marijuana because medical marijuana is only used to combat disease and therefore is not a substitute for booze.  Yeah, right.  A university study using retail scanner data from 2006 – 2015 found that alcohol sales fell 15% in jurisdictions that legalized medical marijuana.  For the sake of emphasis – this was a study of legal medical marijuana on alcohol sales, not legalized recreational use of marijuana.

The Oregon Trail.  The relationship between legalized recreational marijuana and liquor sales has been studied in Oregon.  In that state, recreational marijuana use is legal at the state level but localities have the right to ban it in their jurisdictions.  A study comparing Oregon localities that allow marijuana sales vs those that don’t found the growth rate of liquor sales for the “booze only” places was faster than in the “booze and reef” areas.  Early days.  Only one year of data.

Miller Time.  A 10-K disclosure by the Molson-Coors company cites legalized cannabis sales as a potential risk to their business. “Although the ultimate impact is currently unknown, the emergence of legal cannabis in certain U.S. states and Canada may result in a shift of discretionary income away from our products or a change in consumer preferences away from beer. As a result, a shift in consumer preferences away from our products or beer or a decline in the consumption of our products could result in a material adverse effect on our business and financial results.”  Four months after citing the business risks of legalized marijuana Molson-Coors announced they are considering the sale of ganja infused beer in Canada.

Rocky Mountain High.  Earlier this year the Aspen Times reported that Aspen’s legal marijuana dispensaries outsold its liquor stores in 2017.  As far as anyone knows, this is the first time such a shift has happened.  I’ll wager it will be far from the last time.

— Don Rippert

Will Virginia Legalize Recreational Marijuana Use?

High times today.  The marijuana legalization wave is beginning to wash over North America. Nine states (WA, OR, CA, NV, CO, MA, VT, ME and AK) along with the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  Well over 20% of Americans now live in states which have legalized recreational marijuana use. On Oct 17 of this year recreational marijuana use will be legalized across Canada. While the various provinces will regulate the sale and use of marijuana in their own unique ways, it will be legal across Canada.

Higher times to come. Several more states are slated to decide the question of legalized recreational marijuana use this November (or sooner)…

Michigan – Voter initiated measure to permit those over 21 to grow and possess personal use quantities of cannabis and related concentrates.  Statewide polling data from this spring shows 61% of voters intend to vote “yes” on the measure. While you may not be able to drink the water in Flint it looks like you’ll be legally able to use it in a bong come this November.

New Jersey – The New Jersey legislature is debating bills that would legalize recreational marijuana in the Garden State. Interestingly, some of these bills would also expunge the criminal records of anybody convicted in the past of marijuana-related crimes. Was I ever arrested for weed?  Fuhghetaboutit!

North Dakota – A voter – initiated referendum will appear on North Dakota ballots this November. Uniquely, the North Dakota initiative would set no limits on the amount of marijuana people can possess or cultivate. Perhaps a large stockpile is required to get through those long, dark winters.

New York – A recent state commissioned study on recreational marijuana legalization came out strongly in favor of making ganja legal. Gov Andrew Cuomo quickly sprang to action setting up a working group to write a marijuana legalization bill. Put New York in the “when, not if” column.  This should give new meaning to Billy Joel’s song “New York State of Mind” (which has the opening line, “Take a holiday from the neighborhood”).

Oklahoma – This June Oklahoma voters approved a broad medical marijuana usage law. Activists have collected a lot of signatures to get the question of legalized recreational marijuana on the Nov 6 ballot. Whether there are enough signatures or enough time to get the ballot question approved this year remains to be seen. Sadly, Merle Haggard died in 2016 before being able to revise the first line of his famous song Okie from Muskogee … “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee”.  It seems that sooner, rather than later, people will be openly smoking marijuana in Muskogee.

Delaware – In June, a majority of House lawmakers voted in favor of legislation to legalize marijuana use and retail sales. However, because the legislation imposed new taxes and fees, state rules required it to receive super-majority support. Lawmakers are anticipated to take up similar legislation again next year. I’ll predict that by 2020 people will be legally getting small in the Small Wonder.

A spot of hemp, Mr. Jefferson? Five of the first six presidents of the U.S. were Virginians and there is evidence that all five of them smoked a little hootch from time to time. You can read the evidence from an unimpeachable source … High Times …  here.

Will River City go up in smoke? But what of modern Virginians and Virginia politicians? In a 2017 Quinnipiac poll Virginia voters supported allowing adults to legally posses and use small amounts of marijuana by 59 – 35 percent. So, the voters would like to see marijuana legalized in Virginia. But since when did the voters matter to Virginia’s political elite? They don’t listen to voters, they listen to dollars. The Virginia Public Access Project tallies up the following donation totals for “all years”:

Beverages – Alcohol Distributors / Brokers – $20,885,384
Retail Sales – General $10,113,070
Restaurants – $6,533,357
Beverages – Alcohol Manufacturers – $3,993,418

As point of reference, Dominion Energy donated $11,354,842 during the same period.  Meanwhile, PepsiCo, owner of Frito-Lay – the maker of Cheetos – only donated $82,385.

— Don Rippert

Your Public Servants in Action, Portsmouth Edition

Leslie VanOrden, a 32-year-old magistrate in Portsmouth, has been arrested for heroin possession, reports the Virginian-Pilot. She was charged following a traffic offense that also garnered a reckless driving charge. She is on leave pending the outcome of the case.

Magistrate judges generally oversee first appearances of criminal defendants, set bail, and conduct other administrative judicial duties.

Fizzle

Jason Kessler defiled the American flag yesterday by associating it with racism. With his latest rally a pathetic bust, Virginians can only hope we have seen the last of him.

So much for the Alt-Right.

Denied a permit to hold a really in Charlottesville, Alt-Right agitator and provocateur Jason Kessler organized a rally in Washington, D.C., on the anniversary of last year’s Unite the Right rally that resulted in widespread violence and the death of a counter-protester. Thousands came — but they were almost all counter-protesters. The Washington Post reports that Kessler attracted only 40 to his “white civil rights rally.”

Other than Kessler and the media, which still hews to the philosophy that if it bleeds, it leads, the group most disappointed by the pathetic Alt-Right showing likely was the radical left.

Antifa members vented their frustration at not being able to confront the rallygoers by lighting smoke bombs and firecrackers and throwing eggs in the direction of police. By then, a steady rain was falling, however, and the protest was fizzling. Most began heading home, but police kept a watchful eye as the black-clad group carrying umbrellas wandered about knocking over trash cans, chanting “Bust a window!” and yelling at police to get out of their cars and “meet us in the streets.”

Meanwhile, in Charlottesville, counter-protesters gathered despite the absence of any white supremacists at all. Last year, lefties criticized the police for letting the situation spiral out of control. This year, they criticized the police for their excessive presence. Reports the Washington Post:

Protesters screamed at police officers, whom some demonstrators had all weekend tried to associate with racism and fascism.

The night before, protesters had gathered at the steps of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, before a giant banner that said, “Last year they came with torches; this year they come with badges,” and then marched through the streets for hours. On Sunday, the protesters, who had come out to combat absent white supremacists, were trying to combat the police, too. They cursed them. Insulted their looks. “Blue lives don’t matter,” the crowd chanted. And: “We don’t need cops.”

The radical left desperately needs a radical right to give itself meaning and legitimacy in the eyes of the broader public. Take the radical right out of the equation, and the radical left has to find new enemies — and it looks like the police are the most likely candidates. Unlike the Alt-Right, which appears to be imploding, the radical left isn’t going away.