Will Virginia ever legalize medical marijuana?
The Virginia General Assembly ended the 2016 legislative season with the approval of SB 701 – a bill that makes it possible for pharmaceutical producers to cultivate cannabis within Virginia so that it can be used for the production of cannabidiol oil.
While this is a step forward in giving patients access to these oils without requiring them to go to another state, the medicine is still only approved for people with epilepsy who have a written recommendation from their doctor, and these benefits won’t be guaranteed until the bill receives a second passage in 2017. As laws regarding the medical constituents of cannabis are starting to pass in Virginia, many are wondering whether it will ever become a full-blown medical state similar to California or Colorado.
Not Yet Easy to Access, Civil and Criminal Penalties Still Common
Last year we saw the passage of HB 1445, which provided some very limited relief to patients who have epilepsy and are using oils that do not contain THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis). Under the new laws, epilepsy patients are not protected from arrest, but once in court they can furnish proof of their condition and doctor’s certification to avoid an actual conviction. Unfortunately, the bill provided no way for these patients to access their medicine legally, nor is it easy for residents of Virginia to receive a doctor’s recommendation, despite other states making it possible to get a medical marijuana prescription online. Fortunately, the recent passing of SB 701 may fix a small part of that problem, but only if it is able to pass once again next year.
Possession of Actual Cannabis Still Yields a $500 Fine and 30 Days in Jail
The House committee recently rejected SB 104, which would have reduced the penalty for first possession of cannabis to a civil fine of only $100. The law remains the same, with first offenders still facing a fine of up to $500 and one month in jail, regardless of whether they have epilepsy. Furthermore, SB 613 was approved by the Senate, and would have eliminated the automatic 6-month driver’s license suspension that is part of the penalty for a first-time marijuana possession, but oddly enough it was shot down by the House committee.
Which State Will be the First to Bring MMJ to the East?
Last year a poll released by Quinnipac revealed that more than 85% of Virginia’s registered voters are in support of legalizing medical marijuana. Similar results are arising from polls in other states across the U.S. and yet there’s not one eastern state that has made the type of leap we’ve seen in states like Oregon, Washington, California, and Colorado. It seems unlikely that any of the states in the northeast will become less strict, given that this region of the country is notorious for having some of the harshest laws related to cannabis cultivation, distribution, and possession. There’s been talk that Florida might lead the way for the east next year, but we’ve been seeing rumours like that for years.
Do the Senate and Registered Voters Even Count?
We’re repeatedly seeing polls show that voters overwhelmingly support marijuana legalization, and we’ve seen several bills that have made it through the senate, yet the almighty House committee has turned each of them down. At some point, we have to ask ourselves whether the voters and the senate actually have a say in the matter at all.