Virginia Governor Signs Legislation to Improve Medical Cannabis Access

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The governor of Virginia on Monday signed legislation aimed at easing access to the Commonwealth’s medical cannabis program.

Glenn Youngkin, the first-term Republican who took office earlier this year, signed a pair of bills, each identical to one another, that remove a requirement for patients to register with the Virginia Board of Pharmacy after receiving a certification from a medical provider. 

JM Pedini, NORML’s Development Director and the Executive Director of Virginia NORML, said that the new law will bring relief to patients in Virginia who have been frustrated by the delays accompanied by the registration with the Board of Pharmacy.

“These legislative improvements will bring great relief to the thousands of Virginians waiting to access the medical cannabis program,” said Pedini. “We hear from dozens of Virginians each week who are struggling with the registration process and frustrated by the 60-day wait to receive their approval from the Board of Pharmacy.” 

The new law “maintains the requirement that patients obtain written certification from a health care provider for medical cannabis,” but the elimination of the step involving the Board of Pharmacy should improve efficiency and access for thousands of medical cannabis patients in Virginia. 

According to NORML, Virginia has “currently over 47,000 [medical cannabis program] registrants, with an estimated 8,000 applicants still awaiting approval.”

Additionally, the measure “amends the definition of ‘cannabis oil’ by removing the requirement that only oil from industrial hemp be used in the formulation of cannabis oil.”

The medical cannabis legislation was among 700 bills signed into law by Youngkin, his office said Monday, adding that the governor took action “on a total of 841 bills sent to his desk during the 2022 General Assembly session.”

“Today marks another important step in a journey for the people of Virginia, one which started even before our nation’s founding. Every year the duly elected representatives of the people assemble to pass new laws on behalf of their constituencies, and I am honored to sign these 700 bills into law this year,” Youngkin said in a statement on Monday, 

“These bills are all bipartisan, and we can all be proud that together we’ve taken steps to make life easier for Virginians, make our Commonwealth’s economy more competitive, support law enforcement, protect the most vulnerable among us, increase access to health care, and take necessary steps toward making Virginia’s schools the absolute best in the nation.”

Youngkin’s first year in office marks the start of a new era for cannabis policy in Virginia, which became the first state in the southern United States to legalize recreational pot use for adults last year. 

But legalization arrived under different political circumstances in Virginia, with the bill passed by a Democratic-controlled General Assembly and signed into law by a Democratic governor, Ralph Northam.

Now, Youngkin has succeeded Northam, who was term-limited, and Republicans have re-claimed control of one chamber of the General Assembly.

That shifted landscape has brought uncertainty to the new cannabis law, particularly as it pertains to commercialization.

Youngkin said prior to taking office that he “will not seek to overturn the law on personal possession,” but he wavered on the matter of retail cannabis sales.

“When it comes to commercialization, I think there is a lot of work to be done. I’m not against it, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Youngkin said. “There are some nonstarters, including the forced unionization that’s in the current bill. There have been concerns expressed by law enforcement in how the gap in the laws can actually be enforced. Finally, there’s a real need to make sure that we aren’t promoting an anti-competitive industry. I do understand that there are preferences to make sure that all participants in the industry are qualified to do the industry well.”

Earlier this year, the Democratic-controlled state Senate passed a bill to have cannabis sales begin in September, but the measure went nowhere in the GOP-led House of Delegates. 

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