by Holly Whitman
Virginia is in for big changes in the coming years, now that a bill paving the way for the production of therapeutic marijuana oil has cleared the State Senate. SB701, sponsored by Sen. Dave Marsden, opens up legal treatment options for epileptics, making Virginia one of the growing numbers of states that have enacted legislation allowing medical marijuana. This trend toward legalization has numerous implications for patients and medical practitioners alike.
State of Ambiguity
In 2015, Virginia lawmakers passed legislation protecting patients and caretakers from prosecution for possessing the oils. The cannabidiol (CBD) and THC-A oils derived from the marijuana plant are nonintoxicating and used to treat a variety of conditions. The main fault of the bill was that it did not have any provisions for production or purchase, making legally obtaining the oils nearly impossible. Buyers had the option of going to Colorado, but many stores wouldn’t ship across state lines, fearing legal action. SB701 aimed to change these policies and open up the oil to some patients.
The Nuts and Bolts of SB701
The new legislation aims to break down some of the walls preventing patients from legally using CBD and THC-A. The bill authorizes the VA Board of Pharmacy to issue a limited number of permits to pharmaceutical processors for the production of the oil. The processing must be overseen by a licensed pharmacist.
Currently, the bill only allows for those suffering from intractable epilepsy to obtain the oil. Intractable epilepsy is a condition where the patient’s seizures fail to respond to conventional treatments and drugs. The patients or their guardians must obtain a written certification of recommendation from a doctor, neurologist or epilepsy specialist. The programs will take some time to plan, and are expected to be available to Virginia residents in 2017.
Controversy and Concerns
Though the bill aims to do well, it is not without its controversy. Some detractors believe that it is a type of medical discrimination to restrict the use of the oils to those with intractable epilepsy. In response, the Cannabis Commonwealth organization stated that it is already working on legislation to relax the restrictions.
This legislation could also increase the risk of doctors and medical professionals getting sued for malpractice. A combined 10 percent of malpractice claims stem from temporary injuries, while another 1 percent comes from emotional injuries. An epileptic patient denied access to the oil might have grounds to sue under injury caused during a theoretically preventable seizure or emotional injury due to having to suffer with their condition.
Looking Toward the Future
While SB701 is limited in its scope, it provides precedent for more permissive legislation in the future. Currently, 24 states allow their residents to procure medical marijuana, with Pennsylvania being the most recent. It is predicted that Ohio will soon follow suit, and that Louisiana will work on expanding its regulations to include more conditions.
The gradual loosening and expanding of the perceptions around medical marijuana prove that while complete legalization will take some years to spread to all the states, legal treatment options are slowly but surely growing.