Bills advance to expand medical marijuana, reduce marijuana possession penalties

Bills advance to expand medical marijuana, reduce marijuana possession penalties

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia's narrow medical marijuana law may be expanded to people with illnesses like cancer and Crohn's disease. It's one of several marijuana-related bills moving through the General Assembly right now, including efforts to decriminalize simple pot possession.

Two years ago, Virginia passed the use of medical marijuana, specifically cannabidiol oil and THC-A oil, only for patients with intractable epilepsy.

"This is a profoundly life changing compound," said Senator Jill Vogel (R - Fauquier)

This year, a few bills propose expanding the use to patients with a variety of conditions, such as cancer, Crohn's disease, glaucoma, hepatitis C, HIV, Alzheimer's, and Multiple Sclerosis, if they have a certified prescription.

Senator Vogel introduced a bill that passed the Senate Thursday.

She tells us, "If you talk with physicians, there are physicians in the legislature with me, who will stand up and say this CBD oil has tremendous benefits and in trials in a series of categories, it has proven to have benefits."

A companion bill would also allow Virginia pharmacies to compound the oil so that patients would not have to get it from out of state.

"You cannot get high from CBD oil, you cannot smoke CBD oil.  It has no psychotropic benefits," said Vogel.

Other bills focus on the recreational use of marijuana, aiming to decriminalize simple marijuana possession or distribution and reduce penalties. One bill in particular passed in the Senate would drop the requirement that offenders with less than half an ounce automatically lose their driver's licenses for six months.

"The Commonwealth's Attorneys have endorsed the concept of not requiring the judge to take away the driver's licenses for six months. A judge would still have the option, but it's not a requirement," explained the bill's patron Senator Adam Ebbin (D- Alexandria).

While other states like Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana, legislators we spoke to say that's not even on the horizon for Virginia.

"For now, I'm focused on decriminalization and reducing the penalties," said Ebbin.

Meantime, two bills would allow farmers to grow industrial hemp, which is low in THC and does not have intoxicating effects.

"There are 25,000 uses of industrial hemp. Companies like Ford Motor Company, the Body Shop, Patagonia, they're all getting it from other places.  Hundreds of millions of dollars are being made. Why not grow in the Commonwealth of Virginia?," said Vogel.
  
All of these bills face opposition from groups opposed to the use of marijuana.

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