A watered-down version of a bill that would allow patients with certain debilitating conditions to access medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it was approved by the West Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday. SB 386 passed 76-24 on third reading after being revised on second reading.SB 386 was originally introduced by Sen. Richard Ojeda (D-Logan) in the Senate, where it was approved 28-6 last week. The House version of the bill, which is titled the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, would charge the Bureau of Public Health with regulating medical marijuana growers, processors, and dispensaries, while the Senate version would set up a 16-member independent commission.
Under the amended House bill, patients with specifically listed qualifying medical conditions could use extracts, tinctures, and other preparations of marijuana, but, unfortunately, not marijuana in flower or leaf form. No smoking is allowed under the amended bill. The amended version passed the House of Delegates with bipartisan support, reports Erin Beck at the Charleston Gazette-Mail.The antismoking, anti-flowers amendment was made by House Judiciary Chairman, Delegate John Shott (R-Mercer). It would also charge a whopping $100,000 annual fee for growers and processors. The fee had started at $200,000, but was cut in half during a late-night floor session.
This differs from the Senate version of the bill and most of the other state medical marijuana programs. It also flies in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence which shows that organic cannabis flowers are effective medicine, even when smoked.
Proponents of the original bill spoke against Shott’s amendment on Monday, saying the Senate may not concur with the changes. They also pointed out that as amended, it benefits big pharmaceutical companies at the expense of low-income Virginians. Funny how big campaign contributions can have that effect. By Tuesday morning, proponents in the House were saying they supported the legislation as amended.
“It really is a good first step,” said Delegate Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha). Pushkin had argued on the floor Monday night that Shott’s amendment is too restrictive and doesn’t do enough to help the West Virginians struggling with serious diseases who could be helped by access to medical cannabis, reports Liz McCormick at West Virginia Public Broadcasting.“Anybody else’s phone ringing off the hook today?” Pushkin had said on Monday. “They want us to vote for this bill, but they want the bill to actually do something; they want a medical cannabis bill. The first amendment doesn’t really do that. It’s not even a toe in the water.”
But even Pushkin, on Tuesday, just couldn’t resist adding those famous last words we’ve all heard so many times: “We can fix it later.”“We can work with it,” said Sen. Ojeda, who wrote the original bill. But Ojeda said he’d have preferred a bill allowing people to grow their own plants, and one that allowed parents to buy edibles for children with some medical conditions. The bill as currently written would require people to prepare their own edibles.
“The Legislature has answered the prayers of many seriously ill West Virginians and their families,” said Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), who is a West Virginia native and graduate of West Virginia University. “This could be life-saving legislation for some patients.
“We commend House members for working diligently to make sure it passes this year, but we urge the Legislature to continue efforts to make sure the program truly works for the seriously ill and to ensure it does not unnecessarily drive up costs,” Simon added.But Mike Manypenny, who first introduced a medical marijuana bill in the West Virginia House of Delegates, said he just can’t support the bill in its current form. Manypenny, who has been at the Capitol advocating for medicinal cannabis this week, said low-income patients won’t be able to afford access to medical marijuana under the amended bill.
The bill, as amended, “opens it up for Big Pharma and corporate elite or just those already rich to run the industries,” Manypenny said. He said he’d prefer to see the bill reintroduced next year in better form, but “supposes it’s better than nothing.”
Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted effective medical marijuana laws, and 18 states have adopted medical marijuana laws that are ineffective because they are either unworkable or exceptionally restrictive.
West Virginia is one of only four states in the nation that has not adopted any form of medical marijuana law.