Dogwood Download: Things You Should Know For Thursday, Feb. 4

However, legalization doesn't take effect for another three years.

By Megan Schiffres

February 4, 2021

Multiple bills moved forward, while Virginia got a COVID-19 update.

RICHMOND – Cases of COVID-19 are increasing slightly, marijuana legalization is one step closer to becoming a reality in Virginia, and a bill to limit solitary confinement advanced to the Senate floor. Clearly there’s a lot going on, but we’ve got an overview of what you need to know right here.

COVID-19 Cases Increase Slightly

Virginia reported a slight uptick in cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, setting the Commonwealth’s progress back after a few days when cases were trending down. With that uptick also came more deaths and more hospitalizations.

Dogwood Download: Things You Should Know For Thursday, Feb. 4
Data collected from the Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 Dashboard

New cases of the virus rose by 219 in the Commonwealth yesterday. That brought the total number of cases in Virginia to 2,959.

58 people died due to the virus Wednesday, up 15 in comparison with the day before.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Commonwealth has received a total of 1,370,975 doses of the vaccine. Administration of 922,940 of those doses has already been completed. Of the people who got a dose of the vaccine, 757,544 have only received the first dose.

This is a significant improvement in comparison to last week. Virginia’s hospitals had administered only 318,000 doses last Wednesday, according to Mike McDermott, the president and CEO of Mary Washington Healthcare in Fredericksburg.

RELATED: Northam Says Virginia’s Getting More Vaccine Doses Soon

Another Case of COVID-19 Variant Found in VA

The UK variant strain of the COVID-19 virus continues to spread in Virginia. On Wednesday, health department officials reported a fourth case, this time in the northwest part of the state.

Health department officials said the infected person had recently returned to Virginia after international travel.

The United Kingdom’s science advisory group released a report Jan. 22, warning that the strain could cause some serious problems. 

“There is evidence from analysis of Pillar 2 testing data linked to COVID-19 deaths that infection with B1.1.7 is associated with an increased case fatality rate,” the report says. “The relative increase appears to be apparent across age groups.” 

Medical officials first identified the strain in September 2020. Now, the Centers for Disease Control says, it is “highly prevalent in London and southeast England.”

Marijuana Legalization Bills Advance

Committees in the House and Senate yesterday reported two bills to legalize marijuana out of committee. Today they’ll reach the House and Senate floors, where the entire Assembly will have the chance to vote of legalization for the first time.

Both bills before the General Assembly would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 years old or older. Both create an independent agency, called the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority, to oversee the creation of a legal cannabis market. Under both bills, the marijuana retail market would not open in Virginia until 2024.

Proposed by Del. Charniele Herring (D – Alexandria), the House version of this legislation was able to pass through its final hurdle before reaching the floor without another amendment.

The same can not be said for the Senate version, which left committee with a last-minute but noteworthy amendment. Now, Del. Adam Ebbin’s (D – Arlington) bill to legalize marijuana includes a requirement that the Commonwealth hold a referendum on legalization. The referendum would be non-binding. Instead, it will “take a sense of the qualified votes.” If it passes, this referendum would become part of Virginia’s ballots in November.

Both legalization bills also create social equity licenses for marijuana businesses. These licenses are for people who meet certain qualifications which demonstrate that they have been negatively impacted by criminalization.

“This bill is an opportunity for probably some of the sharpest minds out there, an opportunity for them to participate in the legal market,” Herring said.

For a review of the House Appropriations Committee meeting yesterday, check out Meg Schiffres’s Twitter thread.

Protest At Noon

Another protest calling for justice in the case of Xzavier Hill is happening today. Virginia State Police shot and killed 18-years-old Hill on January 9.

Police claim they shot Hill because he was aiming a gun at officers. His family say they have seen the footage of his death, and that it proves his innocence. They’re calling on the VSP to release the dash cam footage of the incident.

Protesters are gathering at noon today at 10100 Robious Road in Richmond. Organizers are encouraging participants to bring horns, drums, pots, and other noisemakers to the demonstration.

RELATED: Xzavier Hill Was Unarmed, Family Says.

Solitary Confinement Bill Advances

Marijuana legalization wasn’t the only controversial bill the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee approved yesterday. Senate Bill 1301, introduced by Del. Joseph Morrissey (D – Richmond) claims it prohibits the use of solitary confinement.

“Studies show that solitary confinement begins to have debilitating mental and physical effects in as few as ten days being isolated. And exacerbated for those individuals already suffering from a mental illness,” Morrissey said.

However, a closer look at the legislation shows it doesn’t get rid of solitary confinement entirely.

Morrissey’s bill allows isolated confinement of prisoners for “the purpose of providing medical or mental health treatment.” In addition to those exceptions, it also allows law enforcement use solitary confinement to keep prisoners safe from themselves or others. Prisoners may only go into confinement for up to 48 hours before an evaluation of the reason for their confinement must happen under the bill.

This legislation was reported to the Senate floor with an amendment saying that it won’t become effective until money is appropriated to pay for the policy changes it proposes. According to its financial impact statement, the bill would require over $39.7 million to implement.

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