Virginia’s medical cannabis patients are now seeing more places where they can purchase their product. But a longtime patient says the program still has its share of roadblocks.
Becoming a registered patient requires a card from Virginia’s Board of Pharmacy to buy products from one the state’s four dispensaries. And it takes a doctor’s recommendation to get that card, which needs to be renewed annually.
Tamara Netzel lives in Virginia Beach, and now gets her cannabis products from Portsmouth-based Columbia Care. A patient since 2018, has multiple sclerosis. She says many Virginia physicians still aren’t allowed to approve cannabis.
“I just went to an arthritis specialist at Sentara. I said, I’m a medical cannabis patient. He said ‘oh that’s great, that’s the safest way you can go!’ I said, ‘I need to renew, can you recommend?’ He said ‘No, no… my hospital won’t let me.”
Lately, Netzel has had to rely on telehealth appointments, but that likely means not getting the same doctor twice.
“I don’t know that doctor. They don’t know me. Yes, I can get my card that way, and my $200 to $250 and get my card, but how personal is that? I’d like to have some guidance.”
Netzel is also frustrated with the state Board of Pharmacy. She says the agency is understaffed, and their website isn’t user friendly.
Democratic Virginia Delegate Dawn Adams can relate to some of that frustration. She’s a nurse practitioner and deals with alternative pain management.
“I believe cannabis can be utilized as a medicine, and needs to be done so responsibility. I believe that clinicians need to be educated about medical cannabis, and I believe if there was a better understanding, we’d have more products available, with more product consistency.”
But Adams says shouldn’t be the role of the General Assembly to ‘hyper-regulate’ the industry. She agrees with Netzel that advocacy groups like Virginia NORML are helpful in guiding patients.
“But it is also incumbent on members of the health care community, who do have an interest in this, to try to educate their peers, as well as patients.”
Despite the increasing number of options, the cost of cannabis can still be high. Netzel says getting her edibles, vape pens, and other cannabis products runs roughly 600 to 700 dollars with each monthly visit. She also says there’s a bit of experimentation involved with finding the right product to treat qualifying conditions.
“It takes journaling. Once you take a medication, you write down ‘what are the effects?’ And I had found (my medication) – this one I can take during the daytime, this one I can take during the nighttime. I thought I had my plan. It was wonderful. Then I go back to the dispensary (and they said) ‘we don’t have that one anymore.”
A retired teacher, Netzel says it’s hard for many to afford medical cannabis, and she knows many patients who are still buying it on the street.
Virginia’s other 3 dispensaries include Abingdon-based Dharma Pharmaceuticals, which recently announced its products would also be sold at RISE, a new location in Salem. The others are gLeaf Dispensary in Richmond and Beyond Hello in Manassas.
Netzel has also maintains a website called Cruel Consquences, dealing with this year’s legalization of recreational marijuana by the Virginia General Assembly.