Limited medical cannabis bill approved, requires passage next year to take effect
Last update: August 16, 2016
The Virginia General Assembly ended its 2016 legislative session by approving SB 701 — a cannabis oil bill — which Gov. Terry McAuliffe did not veto. This limited bill allows the cultivation of cannabis by pharmaceutical processors that would then produce cannabidiol oil. Patients suffering from intractable epilepsy could receive the oil with a written certification from their doctors. Unfortunately, epileptic patients won’t receive any benefit until at least 2017, as the bill requires a second passage next year.
While MPP applauds the Commonwealth’s effort to bring relief to residents suffering from epilepsy, this measure does not go nearly far enough. Ask your elected officials to show compassion for our sickest residents, including those with other serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, intractable pain, and PTSD. Medical marijuana is far less harmful and poses fewer negative side effects than most prescription drugs — especially painkillers — and patients often find it to be a more effective treatment.
Many other bills were filed this session that could have significantly improved the lives of Virginians, but unfortunately they were not enacted. Sen. Thomas Garret’s SB 613 would have put an end to the automatic six-month driver’s license suspension for a first-time marijuana possession charge — it was approved in the Senate but died in a House committee. Meanwhile, Sen. Adam Ebbin’s SB 104 would have reduced the penalty for first offense possession from a fine of up to $500 and 30 days in jail to a modest $100 civil fine. It did not make it out of committee.
2015 saw the passage of HB 1445, an extremely narrow law that provides some relief to a very small percentage of the Commonwealth’s patients who could benefit from access to medical cannabis. It allows patients with intractable epilepsy to avoid a conviction, but not an arrest, for possessing certain low- or no-THC medical cannabis oils. It does not provide for any in-state access to these treatments, although access may be coming soon, as the above section explains.
A Quinnipiac poll released in April 2015 found that 86% of Virginia voters support the legalization of medical marijuana.
Please write your legislators and ask them to support the will of their constituents next session. You can ask them to call for the state to legalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol, or to take a more modest reform such as citing and fining – rather than arresting and criminalizing – marijuana users.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Virginia, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service.