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Virginia lawmakers propose decriminalizing psychedelic mushrooms

“It is increasingly a recognized treatment for refractory depression and PTSD,” said Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, a nurse practitioner whose legislation would also decriminalize peyote, a cactus that contains the psychedelic compound mescalin. “It’s changed people’s lives.”

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By Ned Oliver

Two Virginia lawmakers have introduced legislation that would end felony penalties for possession of psychedelic mushrooms, citing the drug’s growing acceptance in medicinal contexts.

“It is increasingly a recognized treatment for refractory depression and PTSD,” said Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, a nurse practitioner whose legislation would also decriminalize peyote, a cactus that contains the psychedelic compound mescalin. “It’s changed people’s lives.”

The legislation would reduce the penalty for possession — currently a Class 5 felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison — to a $100 civil fine.

Sens. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield, and Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

The bill would put Virginia at the forefront of a nascent decriminalization movement that has primarily been limited to cities, including Washington, D.C. So far, Oregon is the only state to legalize medicinal use of psilocybin, an active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms.

The bill likely faces long odds, especially in the House of Delegates, where the newly reinstated Republican majority has historically resisted efforts to loosen drug laws. That said, Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, who leads the chamber’s Courts of Justice Committee, said he is open to hearing arguments in favor of the legislation.

“That is not something we’ve taken up before,” he said. “I’d be interested in hearing what (Adams) has to say.”

Even if the legislation were to pass, the drug would remain illegal, albeit with reduced penalties. That makes it unlikely medical providers in Virginia would embrace psychedelics as a treatment option, but Adams said it would nonetheless be a step in the right direction.

“If we decriminalize it, it allows people to learn,” she said. “It doesn’t egg people on (to use the drug). It tries to open the door for us to continue to study the positive effects on people’s mental health going forward.”

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Suspension Bridge to Belle Isle Closed Today

The bridge should be completed by the weekend.

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The suspension pedestrian bridge to Belle Isle is temporarily closed due to concrete falling from Lee Bridge.

The closure took place Wednesday after city officials received reports of concrete pieces being found on the pedestrian bridge.

“It was concluded that the concrete pieces fell from an open joint of the Lee Bridge. Consequently, the pedestrian bridge located directly under the open joint had to be closed in an effort to protect the public,” a release said.

While the engineers say there is no serious danger they’re putting in a scaffolding protection system along some stretches of the bridge. The installation is taking place today (Thursday) and is expected to be done Friday.

Dominion RiverRock is this weekend and temperatures are in expected in the upper 90’s so usage of the bridge and Belle Isle will be at a season-high.

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Virginia lawmakers dodge questions on whether budget might include new policy on skill games

“Let’s keep ’em guessing,” House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, said Tuesday when asked for a response to the claim the budget could include a revised policy on skill games, either to tighten the existing ban or to lift it.

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By Graham Moomaw

Budget leaders in the Virginia General Assembly won’t say if they’re considering changing the state’s contested ban on slots-like skill machines through the budget, despite that possibility already convincing a judge to order a lengthy delay in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban.

Last month, lawyers challenging the ban as unconstitutional pointed to the legislature’s ongoing special session and unfinished budget to argue the case should be delayed until all sides know what the state’s official policy on skill games will be. But the General Assembly’s budget negotiators won’t even say whether skill-games are part of their discussions.

“Let’s keep ’em guessing,” House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, said Tuesday when asked for a response to the claim the budget could include a revised policy on skill games, either to tighten the existing ban or to lift it.

Knight insisted the budget will get done and said “fine-tuning” is underway.

“In negotiations, I don’t comment on anything,” Knight said. “That’s how I work a negotiation.”

Asked about potential skill games changes Tuesday after a meeting in Richmond, Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, one of the 14 legislators working on the state budget, deferred to Senate Finance Chairwoman Janet Howell, D-Fairfax. Howell did not attend Tuesday morning’s Senate Finance Committee meeting, and she did not respond to an emailed request for comment Monday. In an email, a Senate budget staffer said “budget negotiations are ongoing.”

As Virginia recently relaxed laws to allow more types of state-sanctioned gambling, skill games have become a perennial point of contention. Usually found in convenience stores, sports bars and truck stops, they function similarly to chance-based slot machines but involve a small element of skill that allows backers to argue they’re more akin to traditional arcade games. Most machines involve slots-like reels and spins, but players have to slightly adjust the squares up or down in order to create a winning row of symbols.

Proponents insist the games are legal and give small Virginia business owners a piece of an industry dominated by big casino interests. In 2019, the chief prosecutor in Charlottesville concluded that they amount to illegal gambling devices, and critics have accused the industry of exploiting loopholes to set up a lucrative gaming enterprise that rapidly grew with minimal regulatory oversight.

After a one-year period of regulation and taxation to raise money for a COVID-19 pandemic relief fund, the critics won out in the General Assembly, with a ban on the machines taking effect in July 2021. But a Southside business owner who filed a lawsuit with the assistance of Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, successfully won a court injunction late last year barring enforcement of that law until his legal challenge is resolved. After Stanley wrote a letter pointing to the special session and unfinished budget talks as a reason to delay a hearing scheduled for May 18, the judge overseeing the case postponed the hearing until Nov. 2. The order also prohibited the state from enforcing the ban against thousands of previously regulated skill machines until November. The order doesn’t apply to machines that weren’t fully legal before the ban took effect, a distinction sowing confusion for local officials trying to sort out what’s allowed and what’s not.

In recent social media posts, the plaintiff challenging the ban, truck stop owner and former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler, said the delay was requested because “legislators are threatening to now try to ban or legislate skill games through the budget.”

“So we need to know what we are fighting against,” Sadler said in a message posted to Twitter last week in response to a Virginia Mercury article about the delay.

Skill-game supporters have claimed the ban was driven by other gambling interests who want to clear out smaller competitors to make more money for themselves. As the gambling turf wars continue in Richmond, some local governments are frustrated by the lack of clarity on whether the state is or isn’t banning the machines.

“It’s created chaos,” said Franklin City Manager Amanda Jarratt.

Jarratt said her city has been dealing with crime and other disturbances associated with the machines, but has gotten little help because there’s no regulatory agency in charge of them. Virginia ABC had temporary oversight of the machines starting in 2020, but that ended when the ban took effect last year and ABC no longer had legal responsibility over gaming machines in ABC-licensed businesses.

“It continuing to drag on over months is only making the situation worse and leaving localities in a difficult position,” she said, adding her city simply doesn’t have the staffing power to try to figure out which machines are operating legally and which are illegal. “You want to be fair to the business owners, but you also need to look out for the best interest of the locality as a whole.”

Jarratt said she’d like clearer direction on whether the state is going to allow the machines or not.

If a new skill-game provision is put into the state budget, it would still need to win approval from the full General Assembly. But with the clock ticking to pass a budget before the fiscal year ends June 30, it’s unclear how open party leaders would be to changes to whatever deal budget negotiators present as the final product of months of work.

Knight offered little clarity on whether skill games are even a live issue. He also seemed to caution against putting too much stock into what people say they’re hearing about the budget.

“I heard that we were going to do the budget today. I heard we were going to do it on the 24th. I heard we were going to do it on the 27th. I’ve heard June the first. I’ve heard a lot of things,” Knight said. “But as far as I know, the only people that know are maybe a few budget conferees. And we’re not talking. Because we’re working to get things right.”

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: [email protected] Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Look Up Saturday for the 40 ACRES: Chimborazo Park Skywriting

The poetics of the skywriting serve as a reminder of that unfulfilled promise of reparations.

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1708 Gallery is excited to announce the date of 40 ACRES: Chimborazo Park, a skywriting performance by Sandy Williams IV. For the performance, a skywriter will trace the dimensions of a 40-acre plot above Chimborazo Park to place a sharp focus on the Freedman community that existed in this area. The poetics of the skywriting serve as a reminder of that unfulfilled promise of reparations. It is a public acknowledgment that will be briefly visible for miles and a physical metaphor for the ways in which the legend of reparations, “40 Acres and a Mule”, still holds an invisible presence in our atmosphere. The visual presence of things might disappear, but the memory is kept alive in the stories that we remember and pass down. This performance is part of William’s upcoming exhibition with 1708 and their long-term work The 40 Acres Archive.

Sandy Williams IV’s skywriting performance 40 ACRES: Chimborazo Park will begin at 3:00 pm.

At the performance, visitors can expect a DJ set, light refreshments, and a brief presentation of the project by Williams and his collaborators.

Please RSVP. This event is free and open to the public.
This project is being supported by Reynolds Gallery, Oakwood Arts, where Sandy is an artist in residence through support from CultureWorks, Afrikana Film Festival, and Arts & Letters Creative Co.
Reserved rain dates to be confirmed the week of:
Friday, May 20, 2022 (5:00 PM – 7:00 PM)
Sunday, May 22, 2022 (2:00 PM –  4:00 PM)

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