The Bulletin

Medical marijuana dispensaries get permission from General Assembly to sell un-processed flower

By: - February 19, 2021 12:13 am

Samer Abilmona, manager of Green Leaf Medical in Richmond, holds a tray of marijuana cuttings. (Scott Elmquist/Style Weekly)

Medical cannabis producers in Virginia will be allowed to sell the plant’s unprocessed flower for the first time under legislation that’s quietly made its way through the General Assembly with broad, bipartisan support.

The industry and its supporters in the legislature pitched the move as an effort to make the products more affordable to patients than the highly processed oils, tinctures and edibles that producers are currently permitted to sell.

“Botanical cannabis remains the most popular formulation among consumers and among older consumers in particular,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform Marijuana Laws.

“Limiting patients’ options to extracted oral formulations is not in their best interests. Botanical cannabis contains more than 100 distinct cannabinoids, many of which act synergistically with one another, producing an effect many scientists believe is necessary in order for patients to achieve maximum therapeutic benefit.”

Virginia’s medical marijuana program began when the legislature was still under Republican control with assurances that it would only permit the sale of non-intoxicating preparations of the drug, with a focus on treating children who suffer from epilepsy.

In the years since, it’s been steadily expanded to allow the sale of a range of high-THC products, from vape cartridges to suppositories. The new allowance to sell marijuana in its raw, smokable form would bring Virginia in line with 32 of the 36 other states with medical marijuana programs, according to the legislation’s supporters.

Only 11 of the assembly’s 139 members have voted against the bills, which have largely flown under the radar as lawmakers pursue broader legislation that would legalize recreational adult use in 2024.

The expansion of the medical program, participation in which requires a recommendation from a health care provider, would go into effect July 1 of this year. And representatives of the state’s medical cannabis producers have told lawmakers they expect that the move will dramatically expand the pool of registered patients interested in buying their products, which currently hovers around 10,000.

Lawmakers are also advancing legislation that would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana through telehealth appointments and make it easier for patients in assisted living facilities to obtain the products. Lawmakers in the Senate are still weighing a House bill that would block employers from firing registered patients for failing a drug test provided they were not intoxicated at work.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.