On July 1, a trio of medical marijuana bills signed in March by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam went into effect. Each expands Virginia’s medical marijuana program in important ways, from increasing access for students and people with disabilities to giving doctors more control to recommend medical cannabis.
After an unsuccessful bid to legalize recreational marijuana earlier this year, Virginia lawmakers turned their attention toward expanding access to medical marijuana under the state’s 2015 “affirmative defense” law. Their efforts resulted in the passage of three new medical marijuana laws, including one of the most progressive school-use bills in the United States. Now that those three new medical cannabis laws have taken effect in Virginia, more patients than ever will be able to access the medical and therapeutic benefits of cannabis.
“Let Doctor Decide” Bill Will Put More Products in Dispensaries
Medical marijuana in Virginia isn’t technically legal. Instead, medical marijuana patients have a kind of legal exemption, known as “affirmative defense,” that protects them from criminal charges for possessing and consuming cannabis. The affirmative defense law for medical marijuana took effect in 2015, allowing patients to register with the Virginia Board of Pharmacy with a doctor’s recommendation certifying they can obtain medical cannabis products from Virginia’s five licensed processors.
But while a 2018 update to the law allows approved doctors to register patients for any condition they see fit, the “affirmative defense” protection applies to CBD oil and THC-A oil only. And that means those are the only forms of cannabis that processors can produce and sell.
The “Let Doctors Decide” bill changes that. Now, Virginia’s medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to produce and sell a wider range of products. Instead of only oils, patients will be able to obtain capsules, topicals, lozenges, edible candy and suppositories. Individual servings or doses, as in many other states, will be capped at 10 mg THC each.
In addition to approving more forms of medical cannabis, Virginia Senator Siobhan S. Dunnavant’s “Let Doctors Decide” bill allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants, not just doctors, to register with the Board of Pharmacy and issue medical cannabis certifications. “The historic passage of my Let Doctors Decide bill allows practitioners to recommend medical cannabis for their patients as they see fit,” said Sen. Dunnavant.
Virginia Becomes Fourth State to Allow Medical Cannabis in Schools
Virginia’s second new medical marijuana law addresses the administration of medical marijuana to students while they’re attending school. In-school medical marijuana use has been a contentious and controversial issue around the United States. Until July 1, just three states permitted access to medical cannabis at school. Now, Virginia is the fourth state to let students use medical marijuana at school.
The law allows school healthcare providers to administer medical cannabis to registered student patients, just like any other medication. “I’m proud that HB1720 will allow students on campus to legally and safely access their medication,” said Virginia Delegate Chris Hurst, who sponsored the House version of the school-use bill.
“Registered Agents” Law Improves Access for Patients with Disabilities
Virginia’s third new medical marijuana is crucial for patients whose condition prevents them from being able to access a dispensary or take delivery. There are a number of reasons patients may be physically unable to pick up or receive medical cannabis. For example, elderly patients living in hospice centers or assisted living facilities and those who rely on home healthcare providers face added challenges obtaining cannabis.
But Virginia Senator David W. Marsden’s “Registered Agents” bill takes care of the problem of physical access. A “registered agent” is someone certified to receive medical cannabis on behalf of a registered patient. Going forward, physical limitations will no longer prevent patients from accessing needed medication.
Overall, Virginia’s three new medical marijuana laws stand to improve a program many lawmakers viewed as overly restrictive. Patient access, as advocates know, is vital to the success of any medical cannabis program. So even though Virginia’s dispensaries aren’t open yet, when they are, they’ll be able to serve more people and a wider range of clinical needs.
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