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Since Virginia is home to Jamestown, the oldest permanent English settlement in North America, the passing of a recent bill (HB 1445) to legalize the use of cannabis oil for severe epilepsy patients is something of a milestone for the entire United States; the action was approved in the General Assembly, the oldest continuous law-making body in the country. On February 26th, 2015, a law was passed by the General Assembly which allowed legal guardians and epileptics themselves to be in possession of cannabidiol oil and THC-A (containing no more than 5% THC) oils for treatment purposes, but did not make the oils legal, and provided no way for patients to obtain the oils legally. The new bill, which advanced from the Senate committee to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, is meant to make obtaining specific cannabis oils for families with severely epileptic children easier. Some of these families were present at the recent Senate hearing, and the decision caused tears of relief.

Mother embraces daughter at a hearing last February. The hearing was set to convince local lawmakers to allow children with severe cases of epilepsy to use cannabis oil to treat their symtoms (Bob Brown/AP

Many families in Virginia have been risking prosecution to obtain cannabis oils from Colorado every 30 days for their children; this legislation will put a stop to that, as well as fears of being arrested. Virginia has traditionally been very conservative in the fight to legalize cannabis, according to The Washington Post, but directing the bill toward epileptic patients made it possible for the bill to pass. There is hope that Virginia may begin to produce its own oils if the state legislature approves it, and the bill was sponsored by Sen. David W. Marsden of Fairfax; all 39 voting members of the Senate approved the bill, with one member abstaining. This vote will bring Virginia closer to legalizing marijuana, but is not considered a step in the right direction by some on the committee. In particular, Mark Obenshain of Rockingham, VA, stated that “next year we’re going to have a request by somebody to make provisions for people to grow pot,” which he seemed to consider a negative consequence of the bill.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Virginia for cancer and glaucoma patients since 1979, but doctors have been unable to provide prescriptions because of federal marijuana laws which prohibit them. There are still some possible roadblocks as the bill makes its way toward full legalization, however, including methods for obtaining a permit from the Virginia state Board of Pharmacy for processing the oils, if businesspeople decide to do that. Also, the bill must still pass a vote in the full Senate and House; if it passes, regulations for cannabis oil processing will have to begin soon. While the avoidance of criminal prosecution for the simple act of helping their children lead more productive, more pleasant, and more normal lives seems like a basic human right, the question of legalization is still difficult to answer in many conservative states. A 2015 Vocativ article noted that legalization is not yet favored in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Wisconsin, New Mexico, and Idaho, for instance. Of these states, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Wisconsin allow cannabis oils for medical use. MassRoots will be keeping a close eye on this story as the vote continues in the coming months.

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