Virginia closer to legalizing marijuana for all medical uses
Virginia inched closer to greatly expanding medical marijuana use last week after legislation passed the state Senate with unanimous support — three days after its companion bill was approved by the House of Delegates.
SB 726, which passed the Senate 38-0 on Feb. 5, would let doctors issue certifications for patients to use cannabis oil to treat the symptoms of diagnosed conditions or diseases. The measure is now before the House Courts of Justice Committee.
The House version of the legislation — HB 1251, sponsored by Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge — was passed 98-0 on Feb. 2. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Health.
With similar bills approved in both chambers, the legislation is likely to head to the desk of Gov. Ralph S. Northam, a physician, who has said he would sign such a bill.
Doctors in Virginia currently can issue medical marijuana certifications only to people with intractable epilepsy. If Gov. Northam signs the bill, the new law would let doctors issue certifications to treat any condition.
The legislation is considered a major victory for marijuana law reform advocates.
“This will bring relief to thousands of Virginians suffering from cancer, Chrohn’s disease and PTSD,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, a marijuana law reform advocacy group. “We could not be happier with the unanimous passage of these bills.”
If the measure is signed into law, Virginia would join 29 other states that allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Three U.S. territories also have a similar policy.
The bills were recommended by Virginia’s Joint Commission on Health Care, which researches health policy options for the state.
Republican Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant of Henrico, a physician, sponsored the Senate bill.
“The literature on medical cannabis is going to be evolving rapidly now, and because of this, it is not a decision that should be in the hands of the legislature,” Sen. Dunnavant stated. “Instead, it should be with physicians.”
An April 2017 poll by Quinnipiac University indicated overwhelming support for the legalization of medical marijuana in Virginia. About 94 percent of Virginia voters polled expressed support. Additionally, 59 percent backed legalizing small amounts of the drug for recreational use.