Northam signs cannabis oil legislation

Published 9:54 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Earlier this month, Gov. Ralph Northam signed HB1251, expanding affirmative defense for possession of medical cannabis oils to people with any diagnosed condition.

Before the signing of the “Let Doctors Decide” bill, only those diagnosed with intractable epilepsy and their caregivers had the opportunity to use an affirmative defense. Now that defense immediately goes to those with any diagnosed condition.

Patients whose doctors have provided a recommendation for cannabis oils will have a certificate signed by their physician that provides them an affirmative defense in the event of an arrest for being in possession of the cannabis oil.


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“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,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director for Virginia National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “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.

“Those interested in seeking cannabis therapy should talk to their health care providers,” Pedini said.

An affirmative defense certificate is a form that must be kept with the oils at all time in case of an arrest. The certificate must be recertified every year.

Participation in the medical cannabis program, once it’s operational, carries a $50 annual fee for both patients and physicians, Pedini said. Physicians will be required to have continuing medical education credits in cannabis in order to qualify for registration and make recommendations for their patients. Patients will be required to have a recommendation from their physician in order to register.

“What is remarkable about this legislation is that Virginia is the first state to do this and expand a hyper-restrictive program,” Pedini said. “It bodes well for the rest of the country and the East Coast. This is a better step forward writing public policy by giving it to the people trained to make these decisions.”

States that allow medical cannabis have also seen a 25-percent reduction in opioid overdoses, according to Pedini.

“Three Virginians die every day, and here is a program doesn’t cost the state any money. It’s an important tool in mitigating opioid dependence,” Pedini said.

Cannabidiol oil and THC-A oil are both non-intoxicating products extracted from cannabis, according to, a website that promotes the use of cannabidiol.

“They are non-intoxicating, but they are psychoactive. If they were not psychoactive, they would not possess anti-seizure or antidepressant capabilities. Psychoactive simply means to cause a change in the brain. Psychoactive does not mean intoxicating, psychotropic or hallucinogenic,” Pedini said.

These oils contain a maximum of 5 percent of THC, and that is considered a low amount, according to Pedini. These oils would be less intoxicating than pharmaceuticals that they replace like opioids, sedative, antidepressants or even light beer, according to NORML.