In a unanimous vote Monday, the Virginia Senate passed a bill that will expand the use of medical marijuana in the state. Just days after the House passed companion bill HB 1251, the Senate voted 40-0 to pass SB 726, or the “doctor’s decide” bill, which if approved by Gov. Ralph Northam, will allow Virginia doctors to recommend cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THC-A) oils to patients with a diagnosed condition or disease that could benefit from them.
“I finally decided that I needed to advocate for the physicians being the decision makers,” said Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, who introduced the bill, in an interview to NewsLeader.com. “We, physicians, are the ones that follow the literature and know which treatments are best for different conditions…”
In 2015, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed into law two medical marijuana bills that allowed the use of Cannabidiol oil and THC-A oil by patients who suffer from persistent epileptic seizures. And last year, the General Assembly passed legislation permitting the cultivation and manufacturing of cannabis oils for up to five pharmaceutical processors one per health service area, but the only condition permitted was intractable epilepsy.
Supporters of the bill, including Dunnavant, believe that it may also help in cutting down on the current opioid epidemic in Virginia.
“States that have medical cannabis laws see a 25 percent reduction in opiate overdose deaths,” she wrote in a blog she posted about the bill on her website. “We are all aware of the opiate crisis we are combating at the state and national level. Evidence shows that the anti-inflammatory properties of THC-A oil help reduce chronic pain.”
The decision overall comes to the joy and relief of many Virginians, especially those suffering from diseases such as cancer, epilepsy, Crohn’s, or PTSD. However, it is no shock that the process to obtain some sort of legalization is a long one. Many delegates have tried to pass many bills in relation only to have them die.
“Things happen very slowly in the legislature, and this was an educational process. It took time and education and a tremendous amount of energy and passion on the part of the families.” Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) told The Washington Post.
Lawmakers believe that the current win is due to the resilience of families lobbying for the bill to be passed, and the ever-growing information supporting the benefits versus the negative effects. Also, the peer pressure looming in from other states who have already legalized it probably didn’t hurt.
The bill is slated to go Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk next, who has been in favor of expanding the use of medical marijuana since he was on the campaign trail.
In an interview with RVA Mag’s Transmission series during the primary, he came out in strong support of decriminalization of marijuana, claiming, “There are far too many people who use marijuana who end up in our courts, jails, and penitentiaries…there is also an inequality out there. African Americans are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested and put in jail for marijuana. So I’m all about decriminalizing marijuana.”
Currently, 29 states and D.C. have full medical cannabis programs and 16 with more limited CBD laws. Virginia is the only one of those to allow THC-A.