• The medical marijuana bill passed 40-0 in Virginia’s Senate
  • A similar bill passed 98-0 in the House
  • The Bills allow physicians to prescribe cannabis oil containing CBD/THC-a for medical purposes
  • Virginia’s previous Medical Marijuana law only allowed patients with intractable epilepsy to be prescribed CBD oil
  • Medical cannabis campaign group, NORML, was instrumental to the bill’s passing

Thousands of medical patients in Virginia are one step closer to having legal access to medical cannabis after their Senate voted 40-0 to pass the Joint Commission on Health Care bill SB 726, AKA the “Let Doctors Decide” bill.

The bill will allow medical professionals in Virginia to recommend and prescribe the use of Cannabidiol (CBD) oil or THC-A oil for the treatment of any diagnosed condition or disease.

Neither of these cannabinoids are psychoactive.

A similar bill,  HB 1251, the House version, also passed 98-0 on Friday.

Both bills will be presented to the Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam (Dem), who has already voiced his support in expanding the legal use of cannabinoids in medical practice throughout the state.

Ralph Northam cannabis speach

Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam calling for the decriminalisation of cannabis

Current medical cannabis legislation in Virginia restricts the use of cannabis oils for those suffering from intractable epilepsy, such as Dravet’s Syndrome. Only neurologists are presently permitted to prescribe cannabinoids.

The “Let Doctors Decide” bill removes these rigid parameters, allowing any doctor to prescribe cannabis oils to any patient suffering from a condition which the practitioner believes they can benefit from.

Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (Rep), one of the chief patrons of the SB 726 bill, referenced the need to put power into doctors’ hands, rather than politicians, when it comes to deciding what is the best treatment for a patient:

“I finally decided that I needed to advocate for the physicians being the decision makers.

Virginia Senator Siobhan Dunnavant

A compassionate politician: Siobhan Dunnavant

“We, physicians, are the ones that follow the literature and know which treatments are best for different conditions.

“The literature on medical cannabis is going to be evolving rapidly now, and because of this, it is not a decision that should be in the hands of the legislature. Instead, it should be with physicians.”

By expanding the ability to recommend CBD/THC-A oil, we are giving doctors the freedom to make a recommendation based on the most up to date research and data, just as they do for any other medication they prescribe.
Delegate Benjamin L. Cline

The Republican Senator’s personal experience of how powerful cannabinoid medication can be clearly influenced her decision to patron the bill:

“After this week, I won’t be able to forget Tamra Netzel, the patient and my constituent with multiple sclerosis that testified on behalf of this bill in committee.

“My niece also has MS and having the opportunity to help others in similar situations means a lot to me.”

 

If passed, the bill would place Virginia among the other 29 states and 3 U.S. territories that allow the use of cannabinoids for medicinal purposes.

 

Chief patron of the House bill, Delegate Benjamin L. Cline, made clear that his support for the bill was based on scientific evidence and compassion:

 

“CBD/THC-A oil has been proven to effectively and safely help patients address symptoms of intractable epilepsy and manage pain.

 

“By expanding the ability to recommend CBD/THC-A oil, we are giving doctors the freedom to make a recommendation based on the most up to date research and data, just as they do for any other medication they prescribe.”

 

Virginia NORML, a cannabis law reform campaign group, was instrumental in not only getting the bill passed, but also in initially igniting the State-wide conversation about medical cannabis law reform.

 

Discussing the rise of the bill, Nikki Narduzzi, NORML’s coalition director at Cannabis Commonwealth, explained how the campaign group managed to get Cline to patron their bill:

“I met with Delegate Cline mid-December at the Starbucks in Staunton to present him with the hard ask: ‘Would he patron a Let Doctors Decide bill that would allow all patients to access the same medical marijuana products that were available to epilepsy patients?

“He was happy to agree and ‘my fight’ instantly got easier.

NORML Virginia campaginers

Jenn Michelle Pedini and Nikki Narduzzi at a cannabinoid medicine conference at Harvard Medical School, April 2017

“I could never put into words just how meaningful his patronage and support was, especially at a time when I had very little (physically and emotionally) to give.

“I had burned my patient advocacy candle at both ends and was just barely hanging in there.”

The campaign group hopes the bill can help curb the State’s growing opioid crisis.

Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML and two-time cancer survivor, explained:

“Medical cannabis laws have demonstrated a significant impact on the opiate crisis.

“States with such laws see on average a 25% reduction in opioid fatalities.

“We are losing three Virginians every day to opioid overdose. It’s time to give doctors in the Commonwealth the ability to utilize this powerful tool in mitigating addiction and overdose.”

With such strong political support from Ralph Northam, Virginia’s Governor, it is hard to see the bill failing to be made into law.

While over half of America’s population has legal access to medical cannabis, patients in the UK are limited to CBD isolated medications.

British MP Paul Flynn’s ‘Elizabeth Price Bill,’ which is seeking to remove cannabis from Schedule I to II, is the closest thing to cannabis reform in Britain.

While the ’10 Minutes Members bill’ will not ‘legalise’ medical cannabis in the UK, it will allow it to be prescribed by medical professionals and researched without restrictions in British Universities.

MMJ will be supporting the United Patients Alliance who have organized a second Patients at Parliament protest on the 23rd February, when the bill will go through its second reading. We invite all our readers to join us and help make our voices heard.