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Recreational marijuana still isn’t legal in Virginia and medical patients face access challenges

Workers at gLeaf Medical tend to plants in a grow room at the Richmond medical marijuana...
Workers at gLeaf Medical tend to plants in a grow room at the Richmond medical marijuana dispensary(Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 12:36 PM EDT
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While recreational marijuana is technically legal in Virginia, the path to purchasing it in stores is still a long way off.

In February, Republicans in the House of Delegates killed legislation that would have allowed limited retail sales later this year. The state’s recreational market is scheduled to begin in 2024, but with a long regulatory road ahead, there’s a strong likelihood that products won’t become available until months or even years later, according to JM Pedini, development director of the National Organization for the Reform Marijuana Laws, or NORML.

With recreational sales stalled for the foreseeable future, Virginia’s medical cannabis program remains the only way for most residents to legally acquire marijuana short of growing it themselves. Currently, though, there are only 46,935 registered patients in Virginia, according to data from the Board of Pharmacy — a small number compared to the state’s overall population of more than 8.6 million.

Pedini, who also serves as executive director of Virginia’s NORML chapter, said that’s largely due to barriers that still exist within the program, despite significant growth over the last three years. Unlike the early stages of the state’s gradual foray into medicinal marijuana, patients now have access to a broad array of products, from edibles to flower, rather than the low-THC oil originally offered through the program. And Virginia’s licensed processors are now able to open up to five additional retail dispensaries, gradually increasing availability.

“So, in some ways, this program is amazing,” Pedini said. In other ways, though, medical cannabis has struggled to gain greater traction in Virginia. Advocates say part of the problem has been the registration requirements for providers and particularly for patients, who frequently face a lengthy wait to legally purchase products.

“Our process is so slow — in terms of the full process to get a card, historically — that it’s been difficult,” said Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, a nurse practitioner who’s also registered with the state to certify patients for medical cannabis. “People can’t just access marijuana after an appointment the way you could for any other medical product in Virginia.”

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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