by Grady Brown
There has been some recent action in the Virginia General Assembly concerning state marijuana laws. At the end of January, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee killed Senate Bill 686, which would have decriminalized marijuana possession and lowered the penalty for possession from $500 to $100. However, the Republican controlled Courts and Justice Committee rejected the bill in a party line 9 – 5 vote. The bill was faced with strong opposition from law enforcement organizations.
While the Senate rejected decriminalization, it did pass Senate Bill 1235, which would loosen medical restrictions on cannabis oils. A similar bill in the House of Delegates has also passed through committee. Should the bill be signed into law, epilepsy patients in the Commonwealth would be able to use marijuana oils to help treat seizures. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has already expressed his support for the bill.
The mixed results in Richmond show a divided General Assembly, but a March 2014 poll from Quinnipiac University poll reported 84 percent of Virginia voters supported legalizing medical marijuana, while 13 percent were opposed. However, legalized marijuana for recreational use is still divided, with 46 percent of Virginia voters in favor and 48 percent opposed. The poll’s margin of error was +/- 2.7 percent. National support for legalized marijuana is also increasing, with a recent Gallup Poll showing 51 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed with a 4 percent margin of error.
by Gabrielle Jorgensen
The Virginia House of Delegates unanimously passed Del. Timothy Hugo’s, R-Prince William, bill to define the term “human trafficking” and make coercion and recruitment into the sex trade a felony offense. The bill, whose counterpart has already passed in the state Senate, would make Virginia the last state to incorporate sex trafficking into its criminal code. While the U.S. has enacted federal legislation prohibiting trafficking and providing a roadmap for prosecution, there exists no comparable state-level statute. This transition to a codified felony is by no means a symbolic gesture. Human trafficking is not unique to Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe: it is modern enslavement, and it is happening in Virginia.
Hugo’s bill, if passed through both chambers, would be a crucial step toward addressing a particularly misunderstood and underreported crime. The current state-level deficiency makes it difficult for law enforcement to identify both traffickers and their victims or for the state to systematically collect data without an apparatus for prosecution. The lack of data, in turn, allows issues like human trafficking slide under the radar of major funding sources that could potentially help victims.
As noted by the Washington Post, Prince William and Fairfax counties in particular provide a surprisingly fertile breeding ground for the commercial sex trade.
by Samir Salifou
The notion that equality of opportunity undergirds political and economic success lies at the core of American meritocracy. Hard work and determination, as opposed to family background, should allow individuals to ascend the socioeconomic ladder.
In 1965, when discussing race-based affirmative action, then-President Lyndon Johnson recognized this issue, sayingthe United States had an obligation to do more than undo inequitable laws. “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say you are free to compete with all the others, and still just believe that you have been completely fair,” Johnson said.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already bans sex-based discrimination, and the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, but those changes did not address structural concerns. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter FairPay Act. The law restored preexisting law, which helped guarantee that individuals subject to pay discrimination have up to 180 days from their last discriminatory paycheck to file a civil suit against their former employer. But this bill failed to address underlying structural issues.