In 1986, Virginia was considered a double red state by the national acupuncture association. Double red signifying that acupuncture would probably never be legalized to be practiced by anyone other than physicians.
Ralph Coan, the founder of the Maryland Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine, was writing a column for the national association of acupuncture in 1986 and had classified states according to the states’ legislature history. The classifications were: (1) green light states where passage to allow acupuncture was considered to be easy, (2) yellow light states where passage may require some limitation, (3) red light states where passage would be difficult, and (4) double red light states where it would be nearly impossible. Virginia was only one of two states considered to be a double red light state. Missouri was the second state.
Claire Wistoff, a senior acupuncture student at the Traditional Acupuncture Institute was tasked with completing a project that would have an impact on the world. As she lived in Virginia and wanted to practice in Virginia, she chose the legalization of acupuncture in Virginia as her senior project. A daunting challenge to say the least. Realizing she could not do it alone, she enlisted two other Virginia students to help her, Floyd Herdrich and Ann Strozier Adams.
Shortly after forming their group, the three students were contacted by a woman who had just returned from a trip and had the good fortune to sit next to Richard Morrison, the Director of the Department of Health in Virginia. As she was very interested in having acupuncture legalized in Virginia, she asked him about the chances of success of having the legislature changed. He advised her to lobby for acupuncture immediately as there was a bill that was being proposed to allow for alternative therapies in Virginia.
She passed this information on to the three interested students over a breakfast meeting. The outcome of the meeting was the birth of a lobbying body for acupuncture, the Acupuncture Society of Virginia composed of Claire as President, Ann as Vice President and Floyd as Treasurer.
The three students met with state representatives to lobby for support for a bill proposal legalizing acupuncture. Through contacts developed through clients, friends and family they were able to meet with many of the state representatives including Marianne Van Landingham. Ms. Van Landingham informed the group that they needed to do their homework and change the public perception of acupuncture in order to have public support behind any legislation.
This advice, although well intended, was also overwhelming considering the work that would be required. Fortunately, this did not turn out to be an impossible assignment as the news media began covering acupuncture and therefore informing the public about its wonders.
At about the same time, Floyd found Clive Duvall, a senior state senator who was willing to sponsor a bill in the Virginia legislature. The bill simply gave the Virginia Board of Medicine authority over the practice of acupuncture in Virginia. Although the bill didn’t have much clout, it did introduce acupuncture to the state legislature requiring a panel to be formed by the Board of Medicine to look at acupuncture in the state.
Over the next several years, the three students graduated from TAI, but continued their work as the ASVA representatives. They had the financial and advisory support of TAI and their fellow students. They tirelessly made trips to Richmond to appear before the panel committee to answer any concerns the panel raised.
One of the defining moments came when one patient recruited to speak before the panel was asked by a panel member if she would go to a medical doctor who practiced acupuncture on the side rather than an acupuncturist. The patient’s response was if she were looking for a plumber, she wouldn’t go to an electrician who practiced plumbing on the side. That statement sealed the deal and the panel gave their blessing to the legalization of acupuncture in Virginia.
Acupuncture was signed into law by Governor Douglas Wilder when he was in office from 1990 to 1994. It allowed for the practice of acupuncture under the supervision of a medical doctor.
The diligent work of ASVA’s founders and the continued work by ASVA have allowed acupuncture to thrive in this once double red light state. We now can practice without medical supervision as later lobbying efforts by ASVA reduced this requirement to a signed form in each patient’s file.
All of us who practice and those of us who receive acupuncture treatments in Virginia have ASVA to thank for the work that has been done on our behalf to allow us to practice this marvelous healing modality.