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With the stroke of Governor Ralph Northam’s pen, Virginia expanded its limited medical cannabis program to historic new heights on Friday, removing traditional qualifying conditions in favor of a more compassionate approach, giving licensed doctors the option to recommend cannabis medication for any patient they see fit.
“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,” the legislation’s chief co-patron Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn told Virginia’s News Leader last month, before Governor Northam signed HB 1251 into law. "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.”
Prior to Gov. Northam’s recent approval, medical cannabis was only available to Virginia residents suffering from epilepsy. Now, thanks to House Bill 1251 and its identical companion in the state Senate, Virginians with any number of ailments will be able to access life-altering CBD and THC oils.
According to Richmond CBS affiliate WTKR, beginning immediately, doctors across the state can recommend cannabis treatment for any of their patients, while approved patients will be able to purchase marijuana oils from any of five state-approved producers. In addition to expanded inclusiveness, HB 1251 also increases the amount of cannabis that each patient is allowed to purchase at one time, from a 30-day supply to a 90-day personal backstock.
Virginians will still be restricted from buying or using marijuana flower and edibles, but by allowing THC-A products alongside CBD oils, Virginia’s legislature is admitting the validity of THC-based medicine – a departure from a number of states’ more restrictive medical programs that allow CBD-only treatment. By introducing both CBD and THC-A options to any Virginian in need, advocates are hopeful that HB 1251 could have a significant effect on the state’s deadly opioid epidemic.
“Medical cannabis oil has been proven to effectively and safely help patients manage pain,” said Virginia Delegate Ben Cline, who authored and introduced HB 1251. “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.”
Virginia has yet to make any steps towards adult-use cannabis legalization, but with overwhelming support for one of the country’s most comprehensive medical cannabis expansions coming from the state’s legislature and Gov. Northam, it is no longer hard to imagine state officials making a move towards full legalization in coming years, a significant departure from other states in the traditionally conservative American South.