The final 2021 version of Virginia’s recreational cannabis legalization was approved in both houses in late February and now heads to the desk of the largely pro-cannabis Governor, Ralph Northam. Meanwhile, to less fanfare, Virginia’s medical cannabis program is taking a major step forward by allowing the sale of unprocessed flowers or smokable buds. With bipartisan support, related legislation successfully progressed through the General Assembly and will also likely be signed into law by Northam.
With a seemingly minor but central change in wording, “marijuana in the form of cannabis oil products,” the bill allows flower to enter the medical market. While the Commonwealth has significantly expanded the medical program in recent years, this move is hailed by the cannabis industry and advocacy groups as a “victory.”
Bryan Lloyd, vice president of retail at Jushi, parent company to the Beyond/Hello dispensary in Manassas, Virginia, said the new access to flower products “will not only help to drive costs down for patients, [it] will also expand their access to life-changing medicinal treatments.” He said, “Flower is often a preferred method for many patients, who suffer from a variety of conditions such as PTSD, epilepsy and [others,] and we look forward to being an ongoing resource for Virginia’s patients as they look for ways to best manage their conditions.”
Similarly, Virginia Medical Cannabis Coalition (VMCC) Chairman Adam Goers said, “Patients in Virginia have long advocated for this treatment option, which is affordable and effective.” He added, “Almost every state with an effective medical cannabis program includes access to flower.”
A total of 36 states, D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have medical cannabis programs. Virginia actually first began allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis for cancer and glaucoma in a limited fashion in 1979, though there was no legal system in place to serve patients. Since then, a number of advances have occurred, including legal protections for the possession of cannabis oil for epilepsy in 2015, allowing in-state production and sales of extraction-based medical cannabis in five Health Service Areas (HSAs) in 2017, and allowing the use of prescribed oils for any diagnosed condition in 2018.
In 2019, the allowance of oils was expanded on to include forms like capsules, gels, patches, sprays, and candies; and nurse practitioners and physician assistants (not just doctors) were allowed to recommend cannabis. In 2020, the first Virginia dispensary opened. In the current 2021 session, a successful bill allows medical providers to continue to prescribe cannabis through telemedicine after the pandemic.
The Outlaw Report asked Virginia NORML Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini why the adoption of flower into Virginia’s medical market was so slow coming. They said it’s an improvement that is “long-overdue” and that the Board of Pharmacy “was not amenable to the proposal in 2020, so the Virginia Medical Cannabis Work Group was convened by HB347 to ensure this and other important operational improvements could be addressed in 2021.”
Pedini said the inclusion of flower is “an extraordinary victory for Virginia patients.”
In VA NORML’S statement on the new legislation, Pedini said buds are the most popular form of cannabis, especially for older consumers: “Botanical cannabis contains more than 100 distinct cannabinoids, many of which act synergistically with one another, producing an effect many scientists believe is necessary in order for patients to achieve maximum therapeutic benefit.”
Virginia currently allows for one central medical cannabis business in each of its five HSAs. Four areas have businesses in place, while one area (HSA I — Northwest) has pending applications. In 2020, the licensed processors were also formally permitted to open an additional five satellite dispensaries in each of their areas, for a total of 25 future stores. The current functioning locations include Beyond/ Hello in Manassas, Dharma Pharmaceuticals in Bristol, Green Leaf Medical in Richmond, and Columbia Care in Portsmouth. There are currently about 10,000 registered cannabis patients in Virginia.
“Virginia’s medical cannabis program is still nascent so, naturally, it will take time for flower to be available but we’re hopeful that patients will be able to access this effective medical treatment option by late summer or this fall,” Goers of VMCC said.