VIRGINIA: “Let Doctors Decide” Medical Cannabis Bill Heads to Governor’s Desk
Richmond, Virginia: Delegate Ben Cline’s (R-24) Joint Commission on Healthcare bill, HB 1251, to expand Virginia’s medical cannabis laws, made its final passage in the House of Delegates today and will now head to Governor Ralph Northam’s (D) desk for signature.
“Medical cannabis oil has been proven to effectively and safely help patients manage pain,” said Delegate Cline. “With Virginia fighting a growing opioid crisis, this is smart legislation to reduce dependence on addictive narcotics. By expanding the ability to recommend medical cannabis oil, we are giving doctors the freedom to make a decision based on the most up to date research and data, just as they do for any other medication they prescribe. I am pleased to see this bill pass the General Assembly, and I look forward to the Governor signing it into law.”
“Virginia can now benefit from the same reduction in opioid fatalities observed by states that have implemented medical cannabis laws,” said Virginia NORML’s executive director, Jenn Michelle Pedini. "25% fewer opioid overdose deaths occur after states adopt medical marijuana laws, and after just a few short years the percentage escalates to 30-35%. Three Virginians die every day from opiate overdose, so this legislation will help immensely in mitigating the opiate crisis in the Commonwealth.”
“HB 1251 is the culmination of several years of work with my constituents and a year long study by the Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC), on which I serve,” said Delegate Kaye Kory (D-38). "The JCHC is a bipartisan, bicameral commission composed of appointed legislators. The JCHC voted unanimously to send HB 1251 and SB 726 to the House of Delegates for this 2018 session. I am proud to be a chief co-patron along with Delegate Ben Cline. This bill will allow more Virginians to avail themselves of the healing properties of medical cannabis oils which can ease the symptoms of painful and debilitating diseases and conditions.”
For Virginians suffering from conditions like cancer, Crohn’s, and PTSD, their long wait to have legal access to the healing attributes of medical cannabis oil will soon be over.
“The passage of HB 1251 is an important next step to improving the lives of so many Virginians and sets an important precedent for laws like this across the country,” said chief co-patron Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41). "Those who suffer from intractable epilepsy have already seen the benefits of cannabidiol oil and how it can improve their quality of life. These bills will allow more Virginians to benefit from cannabidiol oil as well.”
Soon, the experts — Virginia doctors — will be the ones determining whether or not medical cannabis oil will help their patients find comfort and heal. Virginia doctors will be able to recommend the use of medical cannabis oil for the treatment of any diagnosed condition or disease. Previously, they were only permitted to recommend the oils to patients with intractable epilepsy.
“As a former President of the Virginia Board of Medicine, I can tell you it is long past time for us to allow physicians, not legislators, to make medical decisions in treating their patients,” said co-patron Delegate Steve Heretick (D-79). "Doctors should be free to use their medical training and experience to recommend the best treatment available, including medical cannabis oil when necessary, for their patients suffering from chronic pain and other serious conditions. This is a big step in the right direction. I am particularly thankful for the emergency clause recommended by the Governor, which will allow this law to go into effect as soon as he signs the bill.”
Virginia’s novel approach to medical cannabis will serve as a model to states that have adopted limited-access policies.
“Virginia will set historic public policy today, by becoming the first state legislature to expand a hyper-restrictive medical cannabis program from a single qualifying condition to any diagnosed condition. I have championed expansion of Virginia’s medical cannabis laws since I took office,” said co-patron Delegate Mark Levine (D-45).
Expanding affirmative defense and access to all Virginians has been a primary focus of Virginia NORML and Cannabis Commonwealth since 2015.
“Today’s passage of the HB 1251 is a monumental win for patients across Virginia,” said patient coalition director for Cannabis Commonwealth, Nikki Narduzzi. “Cannabis Commonwealth is ready to transition from educating our legislators to educating patients and healthcare providers about what this means for them. We are excited to help patients achieve their goals of pain management, reducing prescription opioid use, and a better quality life via cannabis therapies right here in their home state.”
What Happens Next
In 2017, Virginia approved a regulatory program for the in-state production of medical cannabis oil by five providers, one per Health Service Area, which will grow, extract, dispense and deliver the medical cannabis oils. These licensed provider, called “pharmaceutical processors” in the Code, are vertically-integrated, meaning everything from growth through dispensation is done on one site by one provider.
Once operational, patients will register with the program and then be able to fill their recommendation at one of five licensed facilities in Virginia. Doctors will be required to obtain Continuing Medical Education credits (CMEs) in medical cannabis in order to recommend medical cannabis to their patients. The annual registration fee for patients and physicians will be $50.
While the new laws will technically not make these medical marijuana compounds legal, they will provide an affirmative defense for possession by patients and caregivers with written certification, and for production by licensed processors. An affirmative defense defeats or mitigates the legal consequences of the defendant’s otherwise unlawful conduct.
Physicians will ecommen the oils, not prescribe them as they do with traditional pharmaceuticals. “Prescribe” is reserved for FDA-regulated products, and legally means to write a prescription on a DEA-numbered prescription pad.
Virginia’s regulations mandate that the medical cannabis oils must contain at least 15% cannabidiol (CBD) or at least 15% tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA-A) and may contain no more than 5% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Have more questions? Check out Virginia NORML’s FAQ on medical cannabis in the Commonwealth at vanorml.org/faqs.