By Fadel Allassan
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Virginia inched closer to greatly expanding medical marijuana use this week after legislation passed the Senate with unanimous support – three days after its companion bill was likewise approved by the House of Delegates.
SB 726, which passed 38-0 on Monday, would let doctors issue certifications for patients to use cannabis oil to treat the symptoms of diagnosed conditions or diseases. The House version of the bill – HB 1251 – passed 98-0 on Friday.
With similar bills approved in both chambers, the legislation appears likely to be headed to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat and physician, who has said he would sign such a measure into law.
Doctors in Virginia currently can issue medical marijuana certifications only to people with intractable epilepsy. If Northam signs the bill, the new law would let doctors issue certifications to treat any condition.
Both bills were a recommendation of Virginia’s Joint Commission on Health Care, which researches health policy options for the state.
The chief sponsors of SB 726 were Republican Sens. Siobhan Dunnavant of Henrico and Jill Holtzman Vogel of Fauquier and Democratic Sen. David Marsden of Fairfax. The chief sponsors of HB 1251 were Republican Dels. Ben Cline of Rockbridge and Glen Davis of Virginia Beach and Democratic Dels. Eileen Filler-Corn and Kaye Kory, both of Fairfax.
“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,” said Dunnavant, who also is a doctor. “Instead, it should be with physicians.”
Virginia is poised to join 29 other states that allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Three U.S. territories have a similar policy.
The legislation is considered a major victory for marijuana-law reform advocates.
“This will bring relief to thousands of Virginians suffering from cancer, Crohn’s disease and PTSD,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of the marijuana law reform advocacy group, Virginia NORML. “We could not be happier with the unanimous passage of these bills.”
An April 2017 poll by Quinnipiac University indicated overwhelming support for the legalization of medical marijuana in Virginia. About 94 percent of Virginian voters polled expressed support; 59 percent backed legalizing small amounts of the drug for recreational use.