Future for recreational marijuana use in Virginia seems inevitable, but uncertain

Virginia medical marijuana patients and providers say they're happy with a new state law making it easier to access medical cannabis as the Commonwealth moves towards the legalization of recreational marijuana.

In a few weeks, a new dispensary for medical marijuana will open in Alexandria, and its parent company plans to open three more stores in Northern Virginia by the end of next year.

READ MORE: Marijuana legalization Virginia 2021: What you need to know

"I see a lot of people who really need it," says medical marijuana patient Barbara Gerardi. "Prior to me getting sick I was like, ‘Nope, I’ll never do that,’ but when I tried it, and it helped me, I had a different attitude about it."

Under a democratic Gov. Ralph Northam administration, Virginia passed a marijuana law setting up the framework for medical marijuana. 

It also said recreational marijuana would be legal on Jan. 1, 2024, without giving much insight into what recreational regulation will look like.

READ MORE: Virginia is looking for its first cannabis attorney after legalization

FOX 5 spoke with an expert who says Virginia is following a model other states have done: start with a medical marijuana program, learn from it and eventually expand to recreational sales.

A big change came two weeks ago when a law signed by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took effect, making it easier for patients to access medical marijuana in Virginia by eliminating a requirement that they wait for approval from the state board of pharmacy before getting a medical marijuana card, something that created months-long waits for patients.

Dr. Annie Ressalam is an internal medicine doctor who’s got specific approval from Virginia to prescribe medical marijuana. She says this regulation change is good, and those waits are gone.

READ MORE: Marijuana legalization moves forward in Maryland with passage of 2 bills

"I think it’s an excellent step forward," says Dr. Ressalam. "I think it’s all around beneficial to the state itself, to the people that live here, and to the people who have these ailments."

Marijuana policy is expected to be a big part of the 2023 Virginia legislative session.