VA: State Health Committee Endorses Medical Cannabis Oils


Doctors should be able to prescribe a pair of cannabis compounds and agencies around the state should better share statistics to track the heroin epidemic, according to recommendations made Tuesday by Virginia’s Joint Commission on Health Care.

Staff for the committee, which is made up of legislators from the state Senate and House of Delegates, received more than 750 comments from the public — both individuals and organizations — regarding its presentation on the therapeutic and detrimental effects of THC-A and CBD oils, both cannabis compounds that don’t produce the high associated with marijuana. A staff report stated that there is limited research to support the use of THC-A or CBD to treat a wide variety of medical conditions, though there is strong evidence that it helps with symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant, R-Henrico, suggested the committee propose that the General Assembly introduce legislation to allow physicians to recommend the use of THC-A or CBD oils for any condition that they think might benefit from them.

“I think the idea here is that this is a therapeutic modality that may really be valuable for some of our citizens,” Dunnavant said. “We’re not going to let this be an abusive situation, but let’s not negate the opportunity for it to be a therapeutic option.”

Dunnavant’s suggestion passed through the rest of the committee.

The committee also considered staffing requirements for assisted living facilities. Currently, Virginia code requires that those facilities have a staff that is adequate to meet the needs of residents, but it does not have a required minimum staff-to-resident ratio for those facilities.

The staff’s presentation identified needs that some assisted living facilities have, particularly those that accept auxiliary grants, a state grant program that pays for room and board for individuals who meet certain income criteria. The grants are necessary because neither Medicare nor Medicaid pay for those costs, and without them assisted living would be available only for those who can pay privately.

The committee decided Tuesday to recommend that the General Assembly increase the auxiliary grant rate — which is currently only $1,220, and covers only 28 percent of what Genworth Financial estimates the monthly cost of a resident will be in 2019 — to an amount to be determined. It also urged the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to direct the Department of Social Services to look into enhancing data reporting capabilities on inspection results and violations.

The increase in heroin use in Virginia was also a topic of conversation for the committee, which voted to recommend that the General Assembly require all state and local agencies, including law enforcement and Community Services Boards, among others, share their data on the use of heroin in the state. The staff report especially highlighted a lack of coordinated data on naloxone use in the state, which the suggestion could help remedy.

The committee avoided a vote on recommending that the Department of Health or the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services study the feasibility of “safe-injection” sites — more commonly called needle exchanges — for the use of heroin and other drugs, which could help stem the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among drug users.

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