Virginia’s Senate recently voted to broaden the use of cannabis oil for medical purposes after a deliberation that shifted into presidential drug usage, 1960s hippie culture, and the long list of possible side effects communicated on some TV pharmaceutical ads. The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel and Senator Barbara A. Favola, builds on legislation passed two years ago that was meant to make it easier for Virginians with serious forms of epilepsy to use the oils that come from cannabis.

This year’s measure expanded the list of conditions to include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, cachexia or wasting syndrome, multiple sclerosis, complex regional pain syndrome, and nail-patella syndrome. The marijuana oils lack the plant’s intoxicating properties but help ease seizures for some epileptics. The law passed two years ago implements a way for epileptics to avoid prosecution for possession of cannabidiol oil (CBD) and THC-A oil.

Expanding the list of conditions raised concerns from some Republicans. They also noted that there hadn’t been any full-scale studies of the oil’s effectiveness for other disorders or testimony from patients this year. Senator Mark D. Obenshain and Senator Richard H. Black were among those opposed, with Black warning about “a return to the 1960s.” Black, a Vietnam veteran, describing widespread drug use in the military of that time stated, “Believe me, it was not pretty. It was the worst of all times.”

The Senate minority leader, Senator Richard L. Saslaw, said the worries were misplaced, since the oil has no intoxicating effects. He said, “We’re not going to become a nation of potheads because people with MS and other kinds of ailments are using this kind of oil.” He talked about the many warnings that accompany TV ads for medicines. “How many of you watch on TV? I have an ear ache’?” he began. “It [the advertised drug] would take care of the ear ache, but side effects: dizziness, diarrhea, blindness, get a heart attack. Twenty things or more could happen to you, but your ear’s going to be okay. But you can die.”

Senator Siobhan S. Dunnavant, a doctor, noted that the Senate had already determined that the oil was so safe for epileptics that the chamber, just two days earlier, approved a bill to allow pharmacies to manufacture and provide the oil. She supported Vogel and Favola’s bill, saying the legislature should leave it to doctors to determine if the oil is useful for conditions other than epilepsy.


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