Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has signed the medical cannabis oil bill into law on March 9. This means that residents of the state can now legally obtain medical cannabis oil.
The medical cannabis oil bill, or House Bill 1251, was recommended by the Joint Commission on Health Care. It passed by the House and unanimously by the Senate last month before it was forwarded to Northam for his signature.
HB-1251 greatly expands Virginia’s original medical cannabis program, which was passed by legislature in 2015. It now allows patients to access and use cannabis oil for the treatment of any diagnosed illness or medical condition. Under the previous law, only patients who are suffering from intractable epilepsy can legally use cannabis without the risk of facing criminal penalties.
Moreover, the new legislation now allows any physician to make recommendations for cannabis treatment if he or she believes that such remedy will help the patient. Prior to this, only epilepsy specialists and neurologists are allowed to recommend such.
The new law allows cannabis oil that contain either cannabidiol (CBD) or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THC-A), or both, in the treatment of severe health conditions.
Technically, the newly enacted state law does not really legalize cannabis. Rather, it provides medical patients an affirmative defense and effectively immunizes them against possession and consumption charges and penalties.
The new law also increases the allowed quantity of cannabis oil that patients can buy from any of the five approved producers in Virginia. The supply period of CBD or THC-A oil that a pharmaceutical processor is allowed to dispense is also increased from a 30-day supply limit to a 90-day supply limit.
However, the new law does come with certain restrictions. For one, the cannabis oil must contain a minimum of 15 percent CBD or a minimum of 15 percent THC-A. Furthermore, patients and doctors need to register with the Board of Medicine.
The new legislation also provides that Virginia’s prohibition of other cannabis products, such as flowers and edibles, stays. In other words, only cannabis oils are permitted.
It should be noted that, technically, the newly enacted state law does not really legalize cannabis. Rather, it provides medical patients an affirmative defense and effectively immunizes them against possession and consumption charges and penalties.
And because of an emergency clause included in the legislation, the new law immediately takes effect.
Why THC-A is allowed
While the state’s regulations are designed to keep cannabis patients from getting high, experts noted that non-intoxicating THC-A can be easily converted into active THC through decarboxylation, which is a process that essentially involves gentle heating.
THC is the psychoactive component of chemical component found in cannabis. It produces high, intoxication, and mind-altering effects.
Presumably, under state law, the resulting product would not be allowed as it would contain over 5 percent active THC. However, making THC-A oil readily available could also lead to the accessibility of homemade products that may be useful for some patients. THC, after all, does offer certain medical benefits that THC-A or CBD does not, such as appetite stimulation, which can help cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy.
Cannabis advocates are happy
Cannabis advocates in the state are very pleased with the news. Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of cannabis advocacy group NORMAL, Virginia chapter, said that the new law would really help many patients and bring relief to thousands of people in the state who are suffering from Crohn’s diseases, cancer, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, it is not just the activists who are seeking cannabis policy reform in the state that are happy with this development. The public, too. In a poll released by Quinnipiac University last year found that 94% of Virginia residents approved of medical cannabis. Meanwhile, 59% of those polled were in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis.