Representing Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax

Newsletter - January 26, 2018

Bringing Medical Marijuana to Virginia
Expected Legalization Date: July 1, 2018

I’ve long advocated for reform of our outdated and unnecessarily punitive marijuana laws. Those of you who know me personally know I've never even tried cannabis. (I have a strong negative allergic reaction to both marijuana and tobacco. Please don't smoke anywhere near me.)

But just because something physically disgusts me does not make me blind to the scientific fact that non-psychoactive cannabidiol oils from cannabis -- oils that don't get you "high" -- have proven scientific effects that reduce pain and nausea and even kill cancer cells.

After my 2016 bill to decriminalize the use of marijuana (HB997) failed in subcommittee, I decided to learn more about the medical use of cannabidiol oils. In 2017, I introduced a bill (HB2135) to bring full medical marijuana to Virginia. Being told that was a "tough lift" but having reviewed strong scientific evidence showing these oils kill cancer cells, I narrowed the legislation to allow medical marijuana for treatment of cancer. We had a long hearing (almost 30 minutes) where I brought forth study after study of scientific evidence. You can watch last year's hearing by clicking here or the picture below.

As you'll see, I changed several minds last year. Several Republicans voted for the bill, and it only lost in subcommittee by one vote.

Specifically, you can hear Republican Delegate Ben Cline say at the end of the hearing (about 25 minutes in): "I'm pleased with what I'm hearing. I'm hearing developments that I haven't heard before."


Last year's hearing on my medical marijuana bill (HB 2135)

Last year, Delegate Cline made clear that he was pleasantly surprised that I proved that cannabidiol oils didn't only mitigate pain from cancer treatment; they also helped to heal the underlying condition by killing cancer cells.

So I joined with Delegate Cline to make it a reality this year. I introduced HB 137 to allow medical marijuana for Virginia cancer patients in mid-December. Then I talked with Delegate Cline and found, to my delight, that I had so persuaded him last year that he was willing to introduce a bill to bring complete medical marijuana to Virginia this year! He introduced HB 1251 on January 10, the first day of session, named me chief co-patron, and this week, the bill successfully passed subcommittee. Having counted the votes on full committee and talked to Members in both the House of Delegates and the Senate, I am extremely optimistic about the fate of this legislation. I expect this law to pass. I predict cannabidiol oils will be legally prescribed in Virginia for diagnosis or treatment of illnesses beginning in July 2018.

Click video to the right to watch this year's hearing on HB 2135, the bipartisan medical marijuana that passed the House and contains my HB 137.

Yesterday's Town Hall in Alexandria


Yesterday Senator Adam Ebbin and I hosted our annual legislative town hall. Thank you to the more than one hundred people who came out for more than two hours on a Saturday morning. We answered dozens of questions on a wide range of issues, including Medicaid expansion, gun safety, and environmental concerns. Many of you had bill numbers in your hands. 

If you want me to support or oppose particular legislation, please first check the list here, as I've already co-patroned more than 100 bills. If a bill is not yet on the list, the best thing you can do is email me at [email protected]. I read your email the day you send it, and I personally respond to all of them eventually. (But given how busy I am during session and the personal attention I give to every single one of more than one thousand emails I receive, my response back to you often takes several months.)

If a matter is urgent or you require constituent service, please call my Richmond office at 804-698-1045 during session, which concludes March 10, 2018. After session concludes, please contact my Alexandria office at 571-234-8481.

Weekly Legislative Update

27 bills and 3 budget amendments

With 27 bills and three budget amendments (a personal record), every day has me present several of my bills, along with my work on the Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee and HWI Subcommittee and my work on the Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee. That, plus Democratic House Caucus and my duties as Assistant Whip, not to mention votes and speeches on the House Floor, advising Democratic Leadership on strategy, helping out so many of our new Freshman members, negotiating with Republicans, getting organized for other bills not yet heard, meeting with constituents and organizations and lobbyists, and amending my bills to make them better means I have very full days during session!

My day typically begins around 6 am and doesn't end until 11 pm or so. Many days I work after midnight and have only 4-5 hours sleep a night. That's why sometimes I need Saturdays just to crash and sleep all day in Alexandria and prepare to return to Richmond on Sunday. I'll drive back there tonight.

But I'm not at all complaining. I'm having fun. Adrenaline rushes plus Diet Dr. Pepper keeps me moving. And knowing that I'm actually making life better for millions of Virginians sustains me and excites me every day.

I had four more bills successfully pass through subcommittee or committee this week, making a grand total (including the medical marijuana bill featured above) of five successes so far, six if you count the rule changes that implemented the recommendations of the Virginia Transparency Caucus. (The video of the bill approving changes to guardianship law to protect Alzheimer's patients was featured in last week's newsletter. It becomes before the full committee tomorrow.)

Let's start with the successes this week:

1. Bringing Transparency to Richmond
(HB 701 and Budget Amendment)

As more than 90% of legislation is crafted in committees or subcommittees (or dies there), I have long believed Virginians should have the right to see their legislators actually make laws and not just watch the speeches we give on the House Floor.
Two years ago, on my second day in office, I co-founded the Virginia Transparency Caucus with Republican Senator Amanda Chase. At that time, committee and subcommittee hearings were not recorded. Even votes in subcommittees were not reported! Very few constituents could make it to Richmond on less than 24 hours notice to watch a hearing. So the hearing rooms were filled with people paid to lobby us and often representing monied interests.
The Virginia Transparency Caucus set out to change these practices and make the inner workings of the General Assembly more accessible to the average voter. And when legislation last year failed to make that happen last year, we circulated a letter signed by 85 of the 140 members of the General Assembly (more than 60% of the Members and a majority in both chambers) demanding these changes occur.
But I'm not done. One last thing has to be done to complete transparency. We need to film subcommittees as well. The cost of doing so is less than 1/3 of the cost we've already spent to film committees. It's time to close this last transparency gap.
Presenting budget amendment to record all subcommittee hearings in the Virginia General Assembly.I tried to do this in two ways, by introducing a bill to do it and by introducing a budget amendment. Click the picture to the right to watch my testimony on the budget amendment.
I’ve also introduced HB 701, which would require streaming of subcommittees. This bill was heard by the House Rules Committee, but they defeated the bill on a party-line vote. You can watch the proceedings here.  I begin my presentation at 3:40:45.
Ironically, it is due to my past transparency work that you can now watch this effort to get more transparency!
I remain optimistic that we’ll record subcommittees relatively soon. And I certainly won’t be giving up this fight. Sometimes you have to present a resolution one year and wait for the results to take place the next.
Presenting budget amendment to record all subcommittee hearings in the Virginia General Assembly.

2. HB 807: "Tyler's Law" to Consider History of Abuse in Child Custody Hearings

I've been working on Tyler's Law since even before I was elected to the House. Tyler is a young man (now aged 15) brutally beaten by his father. His mother was unaware of the abuse to Tyler but was aware his father had brutalized his girlfriend and her children. Yet Virginia judges refused to consider this evidence until Tyler came forward to tell his story.

In Virginia, courts are not required to consider a parent's history of domestic violence in making custody decisions unless it's directed at a family member. So if a man assaulted several girlfriends or abused their children, Virginia courts have routinely excluded this evidence from the record.

I've now heard case after case of judges refusing to consider evidence of violent abuse against girlfriends, stepchildren, and other vulnerable people in giving custody to abusive fathers. That's why this bill is so important. I'm happy to report that it was passed by a Court of Justice subcommittee this week, which you can watch below. And it should be heard in the full committee tomorrow.

3. HB 136: Liquor License for Gadsby's Tavern

I talked last week about my bill to allow liquor licenses for special events at Gadsby’s Tavern in Old Town. I’m pleased to report that it was passed by the full General Laws Committee this week and should be up for a vote on the House floor on Wednesday.

4. HB 424: Vaccines for Animal Shelters 

My bill HB 424 would allow animal shelters to vaccinate the animals they take in. This bill was suggested to me by local advocates for animal welfare and is critical to ensuring the health of our animals. I’m pleased to report that it was passed both in subcommittee and by the full House Agriculture Committee this week. You can watch the hearing here. It’s currently scheduled for a vote on the House floor on Tuesday.

Not every bill I introduce, of course, passes subcommittee. Some very good bills failed this week but not for my lack of trying. I'm confident all four bills below which failed this week will pass the House of Delegates when Democrats gain the two seats we need to obtain a majority in the Chamber.

5. HB 425: Animal Cruelty

Another bill I introduced to help protect animals, as well as all of us, was HB 425. This bill would have prohibited people convicted of animal cruelty from owning a pet in the future. More importantly, it would have required judges in the vast majority of cases to order mental health counseling for those convicted. Experts agree that animal cruelty leads to human cruelty, so catching it before it starts is crucially important. Unfortunately, this common-sense bill was rejected by a House Agriculture subcommittee, which you can see above.

6. HB 402: Body Cameras for Law Enforcement

Another issue I’ve been working on ever since I was first elected is providing a legal framework in Virginia for body cameras worn by law enforcement. I strongly believe these cameras build trust by helping us know what happened during a controversial interaction between police and the communities they serve. As law enforcement across Virginia begins to implement this new technology, I believe they should in place written policies governing the use of these cameras, determined after public comment, and they should use as guidelines the state's model policy.

HB 402 would have required this and is one of the few body-camera bills to have strong support both from the NAACP and from law enforcement groups like the Sheriffs, the Commonwealth’s Attorneys, and the Fraternal Order of Police. Unfortunately, as you'll see above, a House Militia, Police, and Public Safety subcommittee voted the law down, but I did obtain a commitment from the Chairman to write a letter calling for a review of the state’s policies on police-worn body cameras.

7. HB 41: Ban Bump Stocks (Mechanism to Turn Assault Weapons into Machine Guns)

We all remember the horrific mass shooting that took place at an outdoor country-music festival in Las Vegas last October. Using a device called a “bump stock”, the killer was able to greatly increase the fire rate of his semi-automatic weapon to make it act more like a machine gun. This rapid rate of fire led to him wounding 600 people and murdering 58, approximately three to four times as many people as he could have harmed using his firearms without this device.

After the massacre, even the National Rifle Association and Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, suggested these devices be banned. After all, machine guns have been effectively prohibited in the USA since the Prohibition Gangsters of the 1930's. Even the vast majority of gun owners support the machine-gun ban and similarly want to outlaw this device.

At the hearing, Courtney Carroll, a Republican woman from Richmond who survived the Las Vegas massacre, gave a heart-wrenching description of what happened, including how she ran for her life, how her aunt was shot, and how she still suffers from post-traumatic stress from that terrible night.

Unfortunately, the Virginia House Republicans in the subcommittee saw things differently. They continue to refuse to allow any new limits on firearms whatsoever, no matter how necessary they are to save lives. As you'll see if you watch the video above, they voted down the bill on a party-line vote. 

8. HB 140: Universal Background Checks

Video: Virginia House Republicans Get Red-Faced Angry at Del. Mark Levine’s Assertion That They’re Voting to Put Guns in the Hands of Terrorists, etc.

While banning bump stocks might save dozens of Virginia lives, universal background checks would save hundreds of innocent lives annually. Studies show in state after state that universal background checks halve rates of murder and suicide. In an emotional pitch to the subcommittee, I pointed out that good people have nothing to fear from background checks, but failure to institute them leads directly to the arming of gang members and terrorists, the violently insane and those committed of domestic violence.

The Chair of the subcommittee told me he was offended by my statement that a vote against this legislation was a vote to arm some very dangerous people. It's never my intend to offend another legislator. And yet, I spoke the truth. That's exactly the result of their passing this bill by indefinitely ("PBI") on a party-line vote. They are helping some very dangerous people get some very dangerous weapons. You can watch by clicking here. 

Bills Coming Up

If you want to come down to Richmond to testify on any bills I've introduced (or have some expertise and want to write a letter in support), please contact my Chief of Staff Steve Marku as soon as possible.

Next Mark's Monthly Meetup

Los Tios in Del Ray
Sunday, February 25 at 2 pm 

Last week we had a packed house at the monthly meetup with more than 60 attendees discussing a wide range of issues.

Please join me for the February Mark's Monthly Meetup at Los Tios Mexican restaurant in Del Ray (2615 Mount Vernon Avenue in Alexandria).


And if you miss February, there's always March, April, or May. Every month, I make sure to be available in this informal setting for any constituent who wishes to discuss a problem or just say hello.

Facing a Packed Subcommittee Room...

My view from the Health, Welfare, and Institutions Subcommittee, on which I serve.
We spent more than four hours debating
Certificates of Public Need for hospitals and medical centers.

Meeting with Constituents in Richmond

Education Association of Alexandria

Arlington Chamber of Commerce

Garden Club of Virginia

The Multiple Sclerosis Society

Arlington Education Association

It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.

Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District