Here’s what you need to know about Virginia’s new Medical Cannabis program

Posted at 8:29 PM, Mar 27, 2019

RICHMOND, Va. — A bill signed by Governor Northam last week will expand Virginia’s medical cannabis program, enabling Virginians to purchase regulated products that utilize the cannabinoids CBD and THC in a variety of formulas.

Virginians will now be able tohead to a doctor, physicians assistant, or licensed nurse practitioner and receive a certificate for use of CBD and THC-A products.

Oils, capsules, lozenges, patches, and lollipops are just a few of the ways that residents of the Commonwealth will be able to consume the regulated marijuana products, which will be available for purchase from five dispensary-style pharmacies established throughout the state.

“What SB 1557 does is clarifies that our pharmaceutical processors will be able to distribute medical cannabis in a variety of preparations, not just oil,” said Executive Director of Virginia NORML Jenn Michelle Pedini.

The bill also clarifies the amount of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, that can be included in the medical cannabis products. THC is the key psychoactive compound in cannabis that creates the “high” feeling associated with marijuana use.

SB 1557 allows doses to contain up to 10 mg of THC, “the status quo limit on adult use serving size in states like like California and Washington,” Pedini said.

The regulation of medical cannabis products in the Commonwealth isn’t all new, but it’s been a slow roll.

  • In 2015, the GA legalized the usage of CBD and THCA for the treatment of intractable epilepsy.
  • Then in 2018, lawmakers passed a bill allowing for the oils to be recommended by doctors to all patients, not just those with epilepsy.
  • Also in 2018, Governor Northam signed the two bills from the Joint Commission on Healthcare , expanding the affirmative defense for possession of medical cannabis to all patients and enabling the Board of Pharmacy to begin distributing licenses for medical cannabis oil processing companies.

Legislation passed in 2019 and now awaiting Northam’s signature expands these developments by allowing for the creation of a diverse range of cannabis products with varying amounts of THC – and by enabling nurse practitioners as well as physician assistants to distribute certifications.

According to federal law, anything that comes from the marijuana plant – including CBD – is classified as a schedule 1 controlled substance and is illegal. But Virginia’s affirmative defense law creates legal protection for certified patients, caregivers, and processors, and prevents them from being prosecuted for possessing products purchased with a certification from a regulated dispensary.

“There are very limited protections at the state and federal level for medical cannabis patients,” Pedini explained, recommending that patients always keep their certification with their medicine.

Currently, the Virginia Board of Pharmacy has given conditional approval to 5 companies – one for each of the state’s Health Service Areas – to open medical cannabis processing facilities across the state.

Virginia’s 5 medical cannabis facilities and their service areas. Photo courtesy Virginia NORML (Jenn Michelle Pedini)

Maryland-based company Green Leaf Medical is opening a dispensary in Manchesterfor those living in Health Service Area 4, which encompasses 27 counties including  Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties and the cities of Richmond, Petersburg, Hopewell and Colonial Heights.

According to the bill, Green Leaf must open their Manchester facility by September 2019.