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Monday, August 13, 2018

Physicians in Virginia can register to approve cannabis oil for any medical condition

Cannabis oil products. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Virginia’s medical marijuana program has come a bit closer to reality, as the registry for physicians is now open.

That means physicians can register with the Board of Pharmacy to be able to recommend cannabis oil for patients for any condition.

More than 70 physicians have registered so far, says Sean Nealon, a licensing specialist at the board. He expects the board to post a list of registered physicians online within a week or so.

Previously, Virginia residents could only get cannabis oil to treat a certain type of intractable epilepsy. A law signed by Gov. Ralph Northam in April expanded Virginia’s medical cannabis program to include all medical conditions.

The expanded program, however, isn’t expected to be fully operational until late 2019.

Patients who receive a document from a physician authorizing them to use cannabis oil could apply to the board for a certificate, pay a $50 fee, and use it to purchase a cannabis oil product from a certified provider.

The Board of Pharmacy hasn’t yet approved licenses for providers, however. So far 51 companies have applied to the board to be licensed as “pharmaceutical providers.” The board plans to approve five for the whole state, one for each of the board’s five health service regions.

The board was supposed to begin awarding conditional approval to companies in September, but that has been pushed back to October or November. According to Nealon, conditional approval means they can start constructing facilities, then will be given six months to submit a progress report.

The providers are “vertically integrated medical producers,” says Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML. That means they would grow marijuana plants, extract and process the oil, and dispense cannabis products in various forms, such as oils, creams, sprays, and capsules.

Cannabis oils legally produced in Virginia must contain at least 5mg/mL CBD (cannabidiol) or at least 5mg/mL THCA-A (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid A) and may contain no more than
5 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).

CBD is considered psychoactive, meaning it causes a change in the brain, making it effective in combatting depression, anxiety, and seizures, but is not intoxicating, psychotropic, or hallucinogenic. It is also useful in relieving pain, reducing symptoms related to cancer and nausea from cancer treatments, reducing high blood pressure, and treating neurological disorders and other conditions.

Once the pharmaceutical providers are up and running, patients could take their certificate to one of the five licensed providers and purchase a 90-day supply but must so do it person. After the first purchase, they could apply for in-person delivery.

Pedini estimates about 5 percent of the population in Virginia will apply for cannabis oil. It will not be covered by insurance and the cost would generally be about $200 a month, but would vary depending on how frequently it’s used and what it’s used for.

According to Pedini, the 5 percent cap is arbitrary, not based on science, and “grossly insufficient for reducing tumors in cancer patients or relieving severe pain or severe PSTD.” It would be helpful, however, in addressing mild pain, insomnia, inflammation, and mitigating opioid dependency.

NORML would like to see the 5 percent limit eliminated but recognizes this is a gradual process.

The possession of cannabis oils, or any form of marijuana, is still not legal in Virginia, but a person stopped by police or arrested for possession could present a valid registration certificate as a legal defense. NORML advises people to keep that document with them at all times.

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