Medical Marijuana in Virginia

In March, 2019, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill to expand Virginia’s medical marijuana program.  This new bill allows Virginians to purchase regulated products which use CBD and THC parts of marijuana in its formulas.

Certificate for Use and Products

Since the signing of the bill, Virginians are able to receive a certificate for use of CBD and THCA products from a participating doctor, physicians assistant, or nurse practitioner.  The products will be available to Virginia residents in the form of oils, capsules, lozenges, patches, and lollipops, among other ways.  These products will be available for purchase from five dispensary-style pharmacies established throughout the Commonwealth.

Senate Bill 1557

Essentially, the bill, Senate Bill 1557, clarifies that pharmaceutical processors will be able to distribute medical marijuana in forms other than just oil.  SB 1557 permits the sale of products containing up to 10 mg of THC.

Affirmative Defense Doesn’t Make It Legal

The new Bill still doesn’t make medical marijuana legal in Virginia, though.  To use it, patients must register with the Virginia Board of Pharmacy for an “affirmative defense.”  Basically, the affirmative defense is a type of doctor’s note that tells the police that a patient is allowed to carry marijuana products.

Basically, this means that the affirmative defense law does not prevent the patient from being stopped, arrested, and charged by police with marijuana possession.  The new law just gives the patient an “affirmative defense” which can be raised during a trial after an arrest has been made.

History of Medical Marijuana in Virginia

The introduction of medical marijuana in Virginia has been a slow process:

  • In 2015, the General Assembly legalized the use of CBD and THCA for the treatment of intractable epilepsy.
  • In 2018, the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill to allow patients who don’t have epilepsy to be prescribed CBD and THC oils.
  • Also in 2018, Governor Northam signed two bills allowing the Virginia Board of Pharmacy to begin distributing licenses for medical cannabis to oil processing companies.
  • The 2019 law, which went into effect on July 1, 2019, allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to write prescriptions for the products and expands the products permitted to more than just oils.

The products which will be offered for sale in Virginia as a result of the new Bill, will contain CBD and/or THCA oils, but not THC.  It is the THC oil from the marijuana plant which produces intoxication or a “high.”

Purchasing Medical Marijuana in Virginia

To purchase medical marijuana in Virginia, patients will need to obtain a Patient Registration Certificate from the Virginia Board of Pharmacy.  The Patient Registration Certificate looks a little bit like a driver’s license.  The Patient Registration Certificate must be renewed every 12 months.

Find A Participating Doctor and Register

The steps to receiving medical marijuana in Virginia are two-fold.  First, you will need a doctor to certify that your medical condition or disease may benefit from treatment with medical marijuana.  Next, you will need to register with the Virginia Board of Pharmacy to get your Patient Registration Certificate.  You can do that at the Virginia NORML website here.

Visit A Processor

Once you have registered, you can visit a processor.  The processing facilities will not sell the cannabis plant itself.  Rather, they’ll sell the oils, creams, and pills.  Some of those products will contact THC, which is the component in cannabis that gets you high.

Federal Law Makes It Illegal

Because marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the federal government, some Virginia medical facilities may choose to follow the federal law and prohibit the dispensing and use of marijuana.  There have been instances where cancer patients in excruciating pain were arrested for possession of marijuana.  For this reason, knowing the policies of any medical facility you intend to visit is important.  Some facilities, like Bon Secours Medical Group, are prohibiting their physicians from recommending medical marijuana to their patients.  Locally, the Sentara Health System will only allow its neurologists to use medical marijuana to treat patients with intractable seizures.  The University of Virginia will only allow medical marijuana to be used in clinical trials.  Other facilities including Carilion Clinic, Riverside Health System, and VCU indicate they are still trying to figure out a policy and are waiting for more guidance from the Virginia Board of Pharmacy.

Local Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Recently, Staunton was named as one of the five medical marijuana dispensaries in Virginia.  The four other dispensaries will be located in Portsmouth, Richmond, Bristol, and Manassas.

Hemp Versus Medical Marijuana

Recently, Virginia has seen an influx of sales of hemp products in many places, including some local convenience stores.  So, why would you wait for the cannabis processors to be up and running instead of just buying the hemp products from the local stores or Amazon?  The problem with the hemp products that are sold outside the dispensaries is that those products are not regulated.  There is no one monitoring what is in those products or whether they have been tested for heavy metals.

Ritchie Law Firm is a personal injury law firm devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligence. Ritchie Law Firm serves all of Virginia, while helping clients in cities and surrounding areas of Harrisonburg, Charlottesville, Staunton, and Winchester also serves clients in West Virginia, including Martinsburg, WV.

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