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Virginia. The Old Dominion. A Commonwealth. One of the most restrict marijuana policies in the Country. However, the tides of change have finally reached the Atlantic seaboard. This March, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a law authorizing the creation of the Medical Marijuana industry in Virginia.
Hyper-Restrictive, Room to Grow.
As with other southern states, Virginia's medical marijuana market is hyper-restrictive. The governing agency is the Board of Pharmacies. There have been no licenses given - yet. The board is still in the process of drafting regulations, with the help of doctors, pharmacists, and patient representatives. Likely, the first medical marijuana license will be issued in 2018. Patient representatives from groups such as Virginia NORML (state chapter of National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws) are working to ensure the regulations allow for easy access by patients and do not impose unreasonable burdens upon the new industry.
What will Virginia's medical marijuana look like?
Virginia's medical marijuana industry is going to start with five (5) fully integrated pharmaceutical processors that grow, extract, and dispense THC-A/CBD oil to certified patients. There will be one processor for each of Virginia's five health regions. Unlike the common image of a west coast dispensary, the Virginia model will look more like a CVS than a common pot shop. Combining a dispensary with a compounding pharmacy, each facility will be able to provide customized biopharmaceutical medication for each patient.
What patients can qualify for Virginia's medical marijuana products?
The Commonwealth has currently only approved one patient group for medical marijuana treatment - epilepsy. Virginia law requires that a treating doctor certify the patient seeking medical marijuana using a form from the Commonwealth. Surprisingly, this certification only provides patients with an affirmative defense to possession of THC-A/CBD oil. This means patients are still technically exposed to arrest from an over-zealous police officer. The certification will prevent prosecution, however, if filled ten days before trial.
What about other patients with other diseases and illnesses?
Unfortunately, specific lists of acceptable diseases result in Virginians with other serious diseases like Crohn's Disease, Cancer, or Parkinson's who desire legal access cannabis treatments needing to move out of state, essentially forcing these patients to become medical refugees. The alternative is to remain in Virginia, break the law, and hope to avoid law enforcement while planning for potential prosecution. Hopefully, the General Assembly will pass a law in 2018 that allows doctors to decide who should be treated with marijuana-derived treatments. This will allow medical professionals, trained in medicine and the application of cannabis-based medication, to certify patients based on individual situations and treatment plans rather than arbitrary lists created by the legislature. As new applications for marijuana medicines are discovered, a bill allowing doctors to decide whether medical marijuana is beneficial for a patient’s ailment will give the law the flexibility to keep up with medical advances without the need to constantly amend legislative lists.
Next Steps for Virginia’s Medical Marijuana Program.
Politics are going to play a huge role in the continued expansion of the Commonwealth’s fledgling medical marijuana program. Currently, republican-controlled subcommittees are holding up many of the reform efforts. This is changing. As scientific research of medical marijuana increases in the U.S. and around the world, the social stigmas attached to marijuana will continue to fade. This change is apparent in American’s view of medical marijuana. A CBS News poll reported 86% of Americans support medical marijuana. This large level of popular support, in addition to mounting medical science, are beginning to sway the legislators hesitant to support reform. As attitudes continue to change regarding cannabis, widespread medical marijuana access in Virginia – and nationwide – is quickly becoming an inevitable possibility.