Cannabis bill goes to Northam

Published 10:19 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Patients and doctors are cheering as HB 1251, the “Let Doctors Decide” medical cannabis bill, is on its way to the governor’s desk for his signature.

The bill’s counterpart, SB 726, is still in the House of Delegates and waiting to be voted on.

“Both HB1251 and SB726 will expand Virginia regulated medical cannabis programs from the single condition of intractable epilepsy to any diagnosed condition,” said Michelle Pedini, NORML’s executive director. “This will provide an affirmative defense for all, not just intractable epilepsy, and expand access to regulated medical cannabis program when it’s operational.”

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Patients will have a certificate that provides them an affirmative defense in the event of an arrest for being in possession of the cannabis oil. The affirmative defense will go into effect immediately.

“Virginia hasn’t legalized medical cannabis. It’s not technically legal, but if someone was arrested for possession, 10 days prior to trial they would provide their certificate and it would be accepted as their defense,” Pedini said. “It would be dismissed, because this signals to law enforcement it’s not worth pursuing.”

Pedini doesn’t believe this is the best policy, because someone will eventually be arrested. But the legislature preferred this policy, according to Pedini.

While the law will go into effect immediately after Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature, the actual program will take a few months to be put into place. Five providers, one per health service area, will be licensed to grow, extract, dispense and deliver medical cannabis oils.

For patients to be able to get medical cannabis oil, they first have to obtain a recommendation — not a prescription — from their health care provider. Medical cannabis oil cannot be prescribed, because prescriptions are reserved for FDA-regulated products.

“The first visit to a facility will be in person, and subsequent refills will be available via delivery. Some patients live far out in the mountains,” Pedini said. “If they have to save gas money to be able to afford the trip to see their physician, how would they save additionally for gas money every month for medication? It’s an untenable burden to put on people in a health care crisis.”

Both patients and health care providers have to register into a database that requires a $50 yearly fee. The fee helps administer the program, but the database comes at the request of the legislature.

“It is wholly unnecessary. This notion that there will be a prescription monitoring program because they believe that patients will go facility to facility to stock up on gallons of medication. They believe they need to be monitored,” Pedini said.

Health care providers will have to obtain continuing medical education credits for medical cannabis in order to recommend it to their patients.