So, how hard is it to get a medical marijuana card in Virginia?
Actually, it’s not a card.
You could call it an affirmative defense certificate. That’s the official language.
“Officer, just give me a moment while I reach into my glove compartment and take out my affirmative defense certificate.”
But the official language doesn’t lend itself to a description you can wrap your mind around, and when it comes to Virginia’s medical cannabis program, there’s a lot of confusing terminology.
A patient registration certificate from the Virginia Board of Pharmacy is a more accurate description of what folks call medical marijuana cards. While it’s a mouthful, it describes exactly what you, the patient, has to do to in order to get the medical marijuana card that isn’t a card.
And it doesn’t look like a card either. Some states do issue standard identification cards that look like a driver’s license, but not Virginia. In Virginia, the certificate looks more like a voter registration notice or tax form.
On the back side, it has the security printed state seal of Virginia.
This patient registration certificate (“card”) does two things:
First, it provides the affirmative defense for possession.
Second, it grants a patient access to the pharmaceutical processor once it opens. Pharmaceutical processor is what Virginia calls a medical cannabis dispensary.
Speaking of tax forms.
Registering for a patient registration certificate with the Virginia Department of Health Professions is like filing your own taxes.
The more complicated the situation, like doing it on behalf of a minor or incapacitated adult, the more likely you will need guidance from someone who knows what they’re doing. Like online tax assistants, resources such as the Virginia NORML will help you navigate the process.
But if your situation isn’t too complicated and you don’t suffer from form fear, an hour of uninterrupted time should be all you need.
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Getting a patient registration certificate, although tedious, is straightforward if you follow the steps in proper order. These steps vary depending on whether you are a patient, parent, legal guardian, caregiver or physician.
Finding a registered doctor is another story entirely. Roadblocks limiting the number of physicians who are registering result in limiting patient access as well, and patients can’t register until they first see a registered doctor and receive certification.
Yes, two certifications:
First you need a doctor to certify your medical condition or disease may benefit from medical cannabis treatment.
Then you need to register with the Virginia Board of Pharmacy to get your patient registration certificate—affirmative defense certificate, medical marijuana card.
The 270 physicians currently registered with the board of pharmacy to participate in Virginia’s medical cannabis program are doing so according to their practice of medicine.
Doesn’t mean patients aren’t going to still ask them for help, even if that help has nothing to do with their field of specialty.
“A boat load of calls,” said an office manager at a registered physician’s office. This seems to be the norm. Doctor registers. Doctor’s phone starts ringing.
A palliative care specialist in the Shenandoah Valley registered with the medical cannabis program to have the option to include it as part of a patient’s pain management treatment plan in hospice care. Since registering, he has received more than his fair share of phone calls once his name appeared on the board of pharmacy’s physician registry.
As patient demand increases so will the number of independent medical marijuana providers since federal and state law inconsistencies have resulted in roadblocks where some hospital-affiliated physicians are, for now, out of the question. Hospitals in the state are just beginning to provide statements on their policies and guidelines.
Policies and policing
Knowing a hospital’s policy is essential. If a health system prohibits use then most likely they prohibit cannabis medicine onsite at their hospitals.
Since medical marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 controlled substance on the federal level, if a health system’s policy is stating this as their reason for prohibiting medical cannabis use then even if a patient has a patient registration certificate from the Virginia Board of Pharmacy giving this person an affirmative defense, this patient is encountering a situation where a Virginia hospital has chosen to follow federal marijuana laws.
This means you could find a police officer in your hospital room.
If you don’t think something bad can happen if you have marijuana to help your dad who is in excruciating pain from stage four bladder cancer, it can. And it has.
Cruelconsequences.org, a project created by medical cannabis patient Tamara Netzel and Virginia NORML to raise awareness of the collateral consequences of marijuana conviction, are collecting stories from people to share the experiences of individuals with marijuana convictions.
You read and hear about these stories on social media. A woman fighting cancer getting arrested in her own hospital room for having marijuana in her pocketbook.
Knowing the policies of any medical facility is essential if you are a medical marijuana patient, certificate or not.
Patients, parents, legal guardians and caregivers.
The first step to getting a patient registration certificate is seeing a physician who is registered to certify medical marijuana.
Once the physician certifies a patient’s disease or medical condition, the doctor will provide a written medical marijuana certification for use.
Certification from your physician must be renewed every 12 months.
On its own, physician certification does not satisfy conditions for asserting an affirmative defense. Patients, parents, legal guardians and caregivers must also register with the Virginia Department of Health Professions.
Once approved, a patient registration certificate (medical marijuana card) from the Virginia Dept. of Health Professions will be sent to you in the mail.
The patient registration certificate allows patients to possess medical cannabis products from one of the five pharmaceutical processors/dispensaries scheduled to open in the state by the end of the year.
Patient registration with the Virginia Board of Pharmacy must be renewed every 12 months.
Need help? Visit Virginia NORML for detailed information on the registration process.
“Virginia NORML is dedicated to ensuring and expanding patient access. From providing step-by-step registration instructions and a user-friendly physician list, to working with state regulatory agencies and legislators, our work keeps consumer convenience and safety front and center,” states Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director.
The News Leader has been covering medical marijuana since a Staunton woman played an instrumental role in its legalization in Virginia. Staunton will also be home to PharmaCann, of the five pharmaceutical processors/dispensaries.
Questions? Let health reporter Monique Calello know at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @moniquecalello.
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