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Virginia Becomes First Southern State to Legalize Marijuana

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Adults in Virginia will be able to legally possess and cultivate small amounts of marijuana starting in July after the General Assembly on Wednesday accepted Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed changes to a legalization bill.

With Wednesday’s vote, Virginia becomes the first Southern state to legalize marijuana.

Northam sent the bill back to lawmakers substantially changed from the version they sent him in February. The amendments lawmakers agreed to Wednesday would accelerate the timeline of legalization by about three years, well before retail sales would begin, a move that’s been cheered by racial justice advocates.

“The time has come for our state to legalize marijuana. The amendments ensure that while we’re doing the complicated work of standing up a commercial market, we aren’t delaying immediate reforms that will make our Commonwealth more equitable for all Virginians,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring said in urging her colleagues to approve the governor’s changes.

Democrats said the bill was a matter of urgency, a necessary step to end what state figures show is a disparate treatment of people of color under current marijuana laws.

Northam’s amendments cleared the House 53-44 with two abstentions during a one-day session held for the purpose of putting the finishing touches on the year’s legislation. In the Senate, lawmakers deadlocked 20-20 and Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax broke the tie, voting to approve the changes.

The final version of the legislation would allow adults 21 and up to legally possess up to one ounce (28.3 grams) of cannabis without the intent to distribute beginning July 1. It would also allow the home cultivation of up to four plants per household beginning July 1. Public use of the drug will be prohibited.

“This is not going to generate some ganjafest at Jiffy Lube Pavilion out in the parking lot, because that is smoking in public. Just like you can’t drink in public, you can’t smoke in public under this,” Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell said.

It will be years before legal retail sales follow legalized possession. The bill lays out the complex process of creating a new state agency to oversee the marijuana marketplace, with sales beginning and regulations going into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

Many parts of the bill dealing with the regulatory framework will have to be reapproved by lawmakers next year. The possession and cultivation pieces will not.

Republicans, who overwhelmingly opposed the bill when it initially went through the General Assembly, railed against the latest version for several reasons.

GOP Del. Chris Head called the bill “a train wreck.”

“The hard-fought compromise that barely made it out of this chamber and over to the Senate has just been discarded. And why is that? It’s because some activists want marijuana legalized and they want it legalized now, consequences be damned,” he said.

Some Republicans also took issue with labor provisions in the new version of the bill, in particular a change that says the government can revoke or suspend licenses issued under the new law in cases where an employer has refused to “remain neutral regarding any union organizing efforts by employees.”

During the legislative session, the Senate sought to legalize simple possession beginning in July, but House Democrats argued that legalization without a legal market for marijuana could promote the growth of the black market. The bill as passed in February would not have legalized simple possession until 2024.

Herring said Wednesday that home cultivation would give Virginians a way to legally acquire cannabis while the retail market is being put in place.

Many of the other amendments lawmakers dealt with Wednesday were minor or technical in nature and dispensed with more easily. For instance, both chambers quickly signed off on a tweak to a sweeping voting rights measure that supporters say will protect and expand access to the ballot box. And they approved minor changes to a measure intended to improve the beleaguered unemployment system.

Both chambers also signed off on a budget amendment from Northam that will fund an outside investigation into a small component of a larger controversy over the state parole board. Republicans blasted the governor’s proposal as far less substantive than necessary and said it would allow the administration to keep quiet any unflattering findings.

Lawmakers had no veto overrides to consider this year. Northam took action on 552 bills from the 2021 session and didn’t veto any, according to his office.

The Senate met at a science museum during the pandemic to allow for greater social distancing.

That chamber also welcomed its newest member, Republican Sen. Travis Hackworth, who won a special election held last month to fill the seat of the late Sen. Ben Chafin. Chafin died in January after contracting COVID-19.

The House conducted its work virtually as it did in the regular session.

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Trump: No ’24 Run Yet ‘for Campaign Finance Reasons’

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Former President Donald Trump teased a run in 2024 to return to the Oval Office, telling Candace Owens on Tuesday he is merely holding off an official announcement “for campaign finance reasons.”

“The answer is I’m absolutely enthused,” Trump told “Candace” in an exclusive phone interview. “I look forward to doing an announcement at the right time. As you know, it’s very early, but I think people are going to be very, very happy when I make a certain announcement.

“You know, for campaign finance reasons, you really can’t do it too early because it becomes a whole different thing. Otherwise, I’d give you an answer that I think you’d be very happy with.”

Owens also joked about being Trump’s vice presidential nominee.

“Are you going to run in 2024, and if so, can I be your vice president?” Owens asked.

“That’s very interesting,” Trump responded. “What a good choice that would be. That would be fantastic.

“You would be fantastic, and I really appreciate the job you do and everybody does.”

Owens is an outspoken and well-liked Black conservative woman who recently turned 32 years of age, meaning she would be the constitutionally requisite age of 35 to be on the presidential ticket in 2024.

Trump has already been recognized as a clear favorite to win the Republican primary, as a straw poll conducted at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this year showed Trump as the favorite with 55% support, followed by Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis with 21%, and South Dakota GOP Gov. Kristi Noem with 4%.

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Corrupt Dem Politician Sheldon Silver Released From Prison on Furlough

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Sheldon Silver, a former Democratic New York Assembly speaker whose political career ended on corruption charges, was released from prison Tuesday after serving less than a year of a six-and-a-half-year sentence while awaiting a final decision on whether he can serve the rest of his sentence there in home confinement. 

The Bureau of Prisons declined to comment on Silver’s status.

“For privacy, safety, and security reasons, we do not discuss release plans for an inmate to include furlough status where applicable,” the bureau said, according to The New York Times.

The federal Bureau of Prisons didn’t provide details or a reason for the transfer, but Congress gave the Justice Department expanded powers during the coronavirus pandemic to release inmates on furlough and home confinement to prevent them from catching the virus behind bars.

At the time of Silver’s sentencing last summer, his lawyers asked that he be allowed to avoid prison and serve a term of home confinement because of his history of cancer and chronic kidney disease. They argued that imprisonment would increase his chances of becoming ill or even dying from the coronavirus.

Nearly 25,000 prisoners have been placed on home confinement by the since last March amid the pandemic. More than 7,000 were under home confinement as of Tuesday, according to the agency’s statistics, reports The Times. 

Yuh-Line Niou, a Democratic assemblywoman who represents the area Silver once did, told the New York Post: “no New Yorker should die from the pandemic while in jail.”

“We should be taking steps for all incarcerated New Yorkers in at-risk populations to be safe from Covid-19,” Niou said. “Our prisons have been and are still hot spots for the virus, and we need to remain vigilant about combating coronavirus in our prison system.

Silver was seen by media going into his Manhattan apartment building later Tuesday. Wearing a gray cap and blue face covering, he sat in a wheelchair as he was taken into the residence.

A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, which prosecuted Silver, said it sent an email to the Bureau of Prisons on Monday opposing his furlough.

Lawyers who have represented Silver at trial and at the appeals court either said they no longer represent him or did not respond to email and voice messages.

Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, was once one of the three most powerful state officials in New York. He was the Assembly’s leader for more than two decades before his abrupt ouster in 2015 after the corruption allegations emerged.

He was ultimately convicted in a scheme that involved a type of illegal back-scratching that has long plagued Albany. He supported legislation that benefited real estate developers he knew. In return, they referred tax business to a law firm that employed Silver, which then paid him fees.

Appeals kept Silver out of prison for years. His initial 2015 conviction was overturned on appeal before he was convicted again in 2018. Part of that conviction was then tossed out on another appeal, leading to yet another sentencing in July.

Under the bureau’s guidelines, priority for home confinement is supposed to be given to those inmates who have served half of their sentence or inmates with 18 months or less left and who served at least 25% of their time. But the bureau has discretion about who can be released.

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Bill Gates and Melinda Gates are splitting up after 27 years

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Bill Gates, co-founder and former CEO of Microsoft, and his wife, Melinda French Gates, said on Twitter on Monday that they will split up after 27 years. The two will keep working together on philanthropic efforts, which have addressed education, gender equality, and health care.

“After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage,” Bill and Melinda Gates wrote in a statement that Bill Gates tweeted out.

“Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives. We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.”

The decision reflects a personal change at the top of American business.

Bill Gates led Microsoft as CEO from its founding with Paul Allen in 1975 until 2000, leaving Steve Ballmer to run the company, while Bill Gates became chairman and chief software architect. In 2008 Gates gave up his day-to-day role at the company to spend more time on the nonprofit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Last year Bill Gates stepped down from Microsoft’s board as the coronavirus became a force around the world. He began spending more time on the foundation alongside Melinda Gates. The two are co-chairs and trustees of the foundation, which launched in 2000.

Bill and Melinda Gates both worked at Microsoft. She had been a general manager at the software company, where she worked on products such as the Encarta encyclopedia, according to her LinkedIn profile. The two met at a dinner for Microsoft employees in 1987. “It took him quite a few months before he asked me out,” Melinda Gates later said. Bill Gates had weighed the pros and cons on a blackboard, and in 1994 the couple were married in Hawaii.

Financial details of the Gateses parting ways are not yet clear. Bill Gates owns 1.37% of Microsoft’s outstanding shares, which are worth more than $26 billion, according to FactSet. The couple was creators, along with Warren Buffett, of the Giving Pledge, a program that requires participants to give away more than half of their wealth.

At one point the couple decided to move $20 billion worth of Microsoft stock to the foundation as they sought to increase their commitment to philanthropy, Bill Gates wrote in a 2019 blog post. Today the foundation has more than $51 billion in assets, according to a tax filing, making it one of the world’s wealthiest foundations.

“In the case of Melinda, it is a truly equal partner,” Bill Gates said in the 2019 Netflix documentary “Inside Bill’s Brain.” “She’s a lot like me in that she is optimistic and she is interested in science. She is better with people than I am. She’s a tiny bit less hardcore about knowing, you know, immunology, than I am.”

In 2015 the two began pursuing areas they were interested in. Bill Gates established Breakthrough Energy, an initiative to slow climate change that includes a venture arm, and Melinda Gates created Pivotal Ventures, a company that makes investments to foster equality.

For Valentine’s Day in 2020, Bill Gates posted a photo on Instagram showing him standing with his arm around Melinda Gates. “I couldn’t ask for a better partner on this journey,” the caption said.

Each year for more than a decade the Gateses have published a letter about their foundation work. In the latest one, published in January, they reflected on the impact of the pandemic, beyond supporting the development of vaccines. “For us, the days became a blur of video meetings, troubling news alerts, and microwaved meals,” they wrote.

Bill Gates is the world’s fourth-richest person, behind Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, LVMH’s Bernard Arnault, and Tesla’s Elon Musk, according to Forbes.

The announcement comes two years after Bezos said he and his wife, MacKenzie, were getting divorced. Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are among the world’s richest people, and Amazon and Microsoft compete in the cloud computing business. Amazon said earlier this year that Bezos would be stepping down from his post as CEO and that cloud chief Andy Jassy would succeed him.

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