The Virginia legislature has passed bills to modify the state’s medical marijuana program to allow for the production and sale of herbal forms of cannabis. The measures, House Bill 2218 and Senate Bill 1333, were approved this week with overwhelming majorities in both the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate.
The legalization of medical marijuana in Virginia began with a strictly limited 2015 law that allowed for CBD and THC-A oils to be used by patients with severe epilepsy. The regulations have been loosened since, and medical marijuana dispensaries selling products with up to 10 milligrams of THC per dose opened in the state last year.
Under Virginia’s current laws, the state medical marijuana program only allows processed forms of cannabis, such as tinctures, edibles, and oils. Herbal forms of cannabis including smokable marijuana are not permitted. With the new change, regulated medical marijuana producers will be permitted to offer products made from “cannabis oil or botanical cannabis,” according to the text of the legislation.
The medical marijuana industry and advocates lobbied for the addition of herbal forms of cannabis to the roster of legal products as a way to improve affordability for patients. The change is expected to greatly increase the number of patients with physician recommendations for medical cannabis, which now totals about 10,000.
Activists Laud The Change
Jenn Michelle Pedini, the executive director of the Virginia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said in a press release that the change will make patients’ medicine accessible in the form many prefer.
“Botanical cannabis remains the most popular formulation among consumers and among older consumers in particular. Limiting patients’ options to extracted oral formulations is not in their best interests,” Pedini said. “Botanical cannabis contains more than 100 distinct cannabinoids, many of which act synergistically with one another, producing an effect many scientists believe is necessary in order for patients to achieve maximum therapeutic benefit.”
The bills legalizing herbal forms of medical marijuana now head to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, a vocal advocate of cannabis policy reform. If he signs the bills as expected, the change is scheduled to go into effect on July 1, with smokable forms of marijuana hitting dispensary shelves as soon as September.
The Virginia legislature is also considering other amendments to the state’s medical marijuana program, including a measure that would make it easier for patients in assisted living facilities to obtain medical marijuana products and doctors who write recommendations for medicinal cannabis to conduct telehealth visits. Additionally, the Senate is considering a House bill that would prevent employers from firing registered patients for failing a drug test as long as the worker was not impaired on the job.
Adult-Use Legalization Also In The Works
Virginia lawmakers are also in the process of legalizing marijuana for adults and establishing a regulated cannabis economy, a move also supported by Northam. The House of Delegates and the Senate have approved separate bills, which are now being considered by a conference committee.
Both bills would legalize the production and sale of recreational marijuana by 2024. The Senate version would legalize personal possession in June, while the House bill would delay legal possession until other provisions of the measure go into effect in 2024.