The use of medical marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been legal in Virginia for patients suffering from cancer and glaucoma since 1979. So why did Virginia lawmakers have a hearing for a medical marijuana bill Thursday? The law allowing cancer and glaucoma patients to use medical marijuana is only valid if the patient obtains a “valid prescription” from a licensed physician. As long as marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug Federally, physicians cannot prescribe any form of the plant. This is why a physician’s “recommendation” is necessary in states with legalized medical marijuana.
There were three different marijuana bills filed for the 2015 legislative session in Virginia, and most legislators and constituents have been doubtful that any of them would be approved. However, the limited medical marijuana bill, SB 1235, may stand a chance after the committee hearing Thursday in which lawmakers decided to carry the bill to a vote next week.
The bill, introduced by Sen. David Marsden was drafted with the help of Beth Collins of Fairfax, VA. Beth’s 15 year old daughter, Jennifer, suffers from epilepsy, and medical marijuana is the only treatment that has significantly reduced her seizures. Beth and Jennifer just moved back to Virginia after living in Colorado Springs, CO for the last year so that Jennifer could legally obtain and use medical marijuana. Beth explained the severity of Jennifer’s condition to WUSA 9,
“Jennifer was taking 16 pills a day and still had 300 seizures a day. We’ve tried every single other medication there is. They don’t work for her.”
If approved, SB 1235 would legalize the use of both cannabidiol (CBD) oil and Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THC-A) oil, but only for patients suffering from epilepsy who obtain a physician’s recommendation. Neither CBD nor THC-A produce psychoactive effects, and therefore do not make a person feel ‘high,’ but they have shown to be very effective in the treatment of epilepsy. Some patients respond best to higher levels of CBD while higher levels of THC work better for others.
The bill language does not contain any information about in-state production or distribution, so it appears as though Virginia families would still face hurdles in accessing the oils, should the possession become legal. Similar issues have left patients in Kentucky and Iowa without access to medicine even though possession has been legalized.
UPDATE: In an email response to the Whaxy staff, Senator Marsden wrote, “We are currently working on an amendment to our legislation to address some of the concerns around production and distribution. However, no matter what we come up with it will require a company or an entity to take on the risk from federal government prosecution.”
It will be devastating for several Virginia families if this bill is not ultimately approved by legislators, but at least it has sparked conversation which will make it more difficult for lawmakers to ignore in the future. Perhaps this large turnout of supporters will even gain the attention of Federal lawmakers to help encourage the rescheduling, or most appropriately un-scheduling, of cannabis so that patients throughout the United States may one day have safe access to medicine.
photo credit: Peggy Fox