This may be the year that Virginia expands the allowed uses of medical marijuana beyond one disease. The Joint Commission on Health Care has recommended it.
Meanwhile, state legislators are also considering bills to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Virginia currently allows the use of cannabis oil to treat intractable epilepsy. Tuesday, a Senate committee is expected to consider a bill to allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for the treatment of several more diseases, such as cancer, Crohn's and Multiple Sclerosis.
Nikki Narduzzi of Virginia NORML joined advocates lobbying for the bills Monday. She says cannabis oil says saved her life when she was bedridden with pain from Crohn's Disease.
"Having access to a safe, regulated cannabis medicine therapy gave me an opportunity to pursue an option that isn't like conventional meds, that have all the nasty side effects that weren't very effective for me," said Narduzzi.
She said cannabis oil enabled her to stop taking steroids and opioid-based medications, saying, "Cannabis therapy was a gateway out of the harder prescription drugs."
"There are certainly a variety of conditions that could benefit from these types of therapies," added Jenn Michelle Pedini of Virginia NORML and the Virginia Cannabis Group. "Those patients will be able to access this."
Last year, Virginia passed a law to allow for medical cannabis pharmacies to make and sell prescribed cannabis oil.
Dana Schrad, Executive Director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, says they'd rather see the use of medical marijuana decided at the federal level.
"When you start looking at this, you can't ignore federal law, which does not allow for this at this time. That means marijuana is not a scheduled drug. It's not something the FDA controls its quality or the way it's manufactured," said Schrad.
Reducing penalties for marijuana possession
One bill proposed would reduce penalties for first-time offenders for possession of marijuana from jail time to a fine, and it could let offenders have the offense expunged from their records.
Two other bills aim to decriminalize simple possession, but none of these bills would legalize the use of recreational marijuana.
"Virginian spends $70 million every year arresting and prosecuting over 22,000 for marijuana possession in the Commonwealth," said Pedini.
Daniel Rouleau, with the Virginia Cannabis Group, says these bills could prevent first-time offenders from missing out on jobs or losing their driver's licenses, as he did for a possession conviction years ago when he was in college.
"I've changed my life, so to speak. I finished school and went to law school and graduated, and because of that change that was several years ago, I'm still in a jeopardy status as to whether I can practice in the state of Virginia," said Rouleau.
Schrad says the organization is okay with reducing the penalties for possession, but it raises other concerns.
"What you have to do is make sure the penalty is not inconsistent with the penalties we have right now for drunk driving or minor in possession, because it would not be good public policy," she explained.
Schrad added, "The problem with looking at decriminalization of marijuana is all the other steps that are involved, like the desire to expunge records, which creates a whole different arena of concerns for our courts, for our record keeping systems, for employers who would like to know that, particularly if you're an employer who considers sobriety or any kind of drug use to be consequential to the job."
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