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T.J. Thompson, chair of Safe Access Virginia, the newly formed state chapter of Americans for Safe Access, the national group advocating for medical cannabis (it prefers the "scientific" term over marijuana), will be leading a lobbying effort in Richmond on Monday, Jan. 20.
Twenty two states now have medical cannabis laws on the books. Since 1979, Virginia Code has also included a statute: "Possession or distribution of marijuana for medical purposes permitted ... for treatment of cancer or glaucoma."
However, "If a doctor were to 'prescribe' medical marijuana or a pharmacy were to fill that prescription, the DEA could revoke the prescription pad, close down the pharmacy and arrest the doctor and pharmacist," explained Thompson in an email. "The way states have been able to get around that is to change the word 'prescribe' to 'recommend' and open 'dispensaries' independent of pharmacies."
Washington D.C. is an example of how the latter works, as in 2010 its Health Department was tasked with overseeing the creation of eight medical 'dispensaries' to supply authorized individuals.
In Virginia, there's also a backlash, and on Monday, HB 684, sponsored by Del. Robert G. "Bob" Marshall, will be heard in the House Courts of Justice Sub-committee. The bill would "amend and appeal" Virginia' statute "relating to prescribing marijuana as medicine" and would make it so that "no practitioner of medicine ... shall prescribe, dispense, administer, or cause to be administered marijuana."
"We don't want to go backwards," said Thompson, a Chesapeake resident and military veteran. He cites research showing the efficacy of cannabis for a number of conditions, including chronic pain, nausea, spasticity and movement disorders.
The Safe Access group also has a draft "Virginia Medical Cannabis Act" at the ready but has not yet found a sponsor for it.
The group will meet on the Capitol lawn at 9:30 a.m. before meeting with lawmakers.