BY BRI PARK
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE
Virginia is now the 29th state that has legalized marijuana for medical purposes, following Gov. Ralph Northam’s signing of a bill to permit it.
The bill, HB 1251, which is identical to SB 726, allows practitioners to prescribe cannabidiol (CBD) or THC-A oil to relieve the symptoms of any medical condition or disease when the practitioner believes the use of one of these oils will provide some benefit.
The bill also includes a provision that will allow pharmacies to dispense 90-day supplies of CBD or THC-A oil. Before, pharmacies could only dispense 30-day supplies of either oil.
The prior law, which was passed in 2015, only allowed the use of these oils for patients who suffered from intractable epilepsy, a condition that causes seizures that cannot be controlled with the use of medication, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.
Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant, R-Henrico, who is the chief patron of SB 726 and a practicing physican, said during a committee hearing on the bill that she introduced the bill following the recommendation of the Joint Commission on Health Care, a standing commission on the General Assembly.
“This actually comes from the Joint Committee on Health care, where we reviewed the CBD oil process and the side effects and the risks after legislation that was similar last year, and it was a recommendation of that commission that we go ahead and allow the physicians to decide when the indication should be given.”
Dunnavant also said that doctors, rather than lawmakers, should be deciding how CBD and THC-A oil should be used on the Senate floor before the bill passed with a 40-0 vote.
“The idea that the legislature would be the ones that would decide year after year what the latest medical evidence showed were good indications for the use of these oils, it’s much better to let the doctors decide for what these oils can be used,” Dunnavant said.
Jenn Michelle Pedini, who is the executive director of Virginia NORML, a Washington-based marijuana advocacy group, said that she had spent hundreds of hours advocating for expanding the use of medical marijuana during this General Assembly session.
“This didn’t happen because of industry dollars or high powered lobbyists, it happened because two moms wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Pedini said. “We were pushed aside by other organizations interested in working for only small patient groups. We were railroaded by partisan antics more than once. We stood our ground, we pushed forward, and we prevailed.”
Northam, who had previously advocated for expanding medical marijuana use, said in a 2017 interview that Virginia legislators should be more open-minded toward the issue.
“As a doctor, I like to make the point to people, over 100 of the medicines that we use on a daily basis come from plants,” Northam said. “So I think we need to be open-minded about using marijuana for medical purposes.”
The bill passed the House with an emergency clause, meaning that went into effect immediately after being signed by the governor, rather than on July 1, which is when most laws become effective.