Patients in Virginia will soon have access to medical cannabis. Dharma Pharmaceuticals, located in the former Bristol Mall in Bristol, Virginia, will serve Health Service Area 3, which encompasses 13,810 total square miles. Much of this area is rural, and access to health care is already a challenge for many of the patients. This is the reason we are working with policymakers to reduce barriers for patients seeking medical cannabis treatment.

As the pharmacist in charge of Dharma Pharmaceuticals, I am excited for medical cannabis to come to Virginia, especially for the patients of Southwest Virginia. Dharma is a member of the Virginia Medical Cannabis Coalition, a group that has been advocating for patients and their access to medical cannabis treatment during the 2020 legislative session. This year, as we prepare to open our doors to patients, we are working on significant improvements to patient access. Telemedicine is an essential option for care that we need to offer patients to improve access to treatment. Current regulations require patients to meet with a practitioner in-person to receive a certification that allows them to obtain medical cannabis medication from Dharma. There are several obstacles that would prevent patients from being able to meet with a registered practitioner face-to-face, especially in our health service area.

Currently, there are approximately 40 registered practitioners to cover patients in a 13,810-square-mile area. This is a small number of providers to cover such an expansive health service area, meaning many patients will have to travel great lengths to meet with a practitioner face-to-face. A lack of transportation to travel to these practitioners and the sheer length of travel, which can be several hours each way, may make it difficult for patients in need. Coupled with patients’ debilitating chronic conditions, it will be unnecessarily burdensome for a patient to travel to a practitioner. It should not be this difficult for our patients to receive the treatment they need.

Telemedicine is widely accepted and used by practitioners across the commonwealth for other types of medical treatment. This type of medical technology certainly would not be unique to Virginia’s medical cannabis program. By nature, it is designed to improve access to health care, especially for those in medically underserved areas and in rural areas like ours, or for patients who might otherwise be unable to travel to a medical practitioner physically. Why should access to medical cannabis treatment be any different?

Our local delegate, Del. Israel O’Quinn, has done great work in fighting for telemedicine for medical cannabis patients. This legislative session, O’Quinn put forth legislation in the House of Delegates that would allow for patients to connect with a recommending practitioner via telemedicine to make that first step in receiving medical cannabis treatment. This bill, HB 1460, has crossed over to the Senate. It is crucial that this legislation passes and gets to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk. Without this legislation, we will find many patients left behind, which would be a failure to these patients and Virginia’s medical cannabis program.

Virginia’s medical cannabis program was created to grant patients access to regulated, medical-grade cannabis treatment, not create barriers to it. By allowing medical practitioners to consult with patients via telemedicine, we can increase the number of patients who will be able to receive medical cannabis treatment for their chronic and debilitating conditions, particularly those in rural Virginia. We must not forget about these patients as Virginia’s medical cannabis processors, like Dharma Pharmaceuticals, prepare to open our doors.

For information on how to become a registered provider or a registered patient, visit website at www.dharmacann.com.

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