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STEVE ELLIOTT

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The West Virginia Senate on Wednesday evening approved legislation (28-6) that would allow patients with certain debilitating conditions to access medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it.

SB 386, the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, is sponsored by Sen. Richard Ojeda (D-Logan). It would establish an independent 16-member West Virginia Medical Cannabis Commission.

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Democratic Sen. Richard Ojeda:
“If doctors are given the opportunity to prescribe medicinal marijuana to help patients suffering from many different illnesses, then why not? Marijuana has never ripped apart a community, but opioids do.”
[NBC News]

The commission would include medical professionals, law enforcement officials, and government agency representatives, to establish and oversee a state medical marijuana program. It would would create patient ID cards, set fees, craft regulations for production and distribution, and determine the conditions for which physicians can recommend medical marijuana.

The bill will now be considered in the House of Delegates. A similar measure stalled in committee in the House earlier this year.

“If doctors are given the opportunity to prescribe medicinal marijuana to help patients suffering from many different illnesses, then why not?” Sen. Ojeda said last Friday, reports Ashton Marra at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. “Marijuana has never ripped apart a community, but opioids do. OxyContin does every day, but OxyContin is legal to be prescribed.”

Members of the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee on Friday amended the bill to require that the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy receive an annual report about the program. They also required that 10 percent of licensed medical marijuana growers be veterans, and that 10 percent of funds from registration fees for growers and doctors be dedicated to education and addiction recovery.

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Republican Sen. Robert Karnes offered an amendment which would have allowed patients to grow two plants for themselves
[Will Price / West Virginia Legislative Photography]

Sen. Robert Karnes also tried to amend the bill to allow any patient with a doctor’s legal authorization to grow two marijuana plants for their own medicinal use. Karnes’ amendment was adopted by the committee.

But when put to a final vote, GOP Sen. Mike Maroney, who is also a physician, spoke against the amended version of the bill. The growing amendment didn’t make it to the Senate floor for Wednesday evening’s vote.

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Republican Sen. Patricia Rucker:
“Saying something like that, okay we’re going to give you permission to grow two plants, it requires oversight of that person. It requires understanding what they’re doing in their home and we were being very careful not to create a problem for law enforcement.”
[Will Price / West Virginia Legislative Photography]

“Saying something like that, okay we’re going to give you permission to grow two plants, it requires oversight of that person,” bill sponsor Sen. Patricia Rucker said in committee.

Senator Rucker seemed to display more concern for inconveniencing law enforcement officers than for the health of patients.  “It requires understanding what they’re doing in their home and we were being very careful to not create a problem for law enforcement,” she said.

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Matt Simon, Marijuana Policy Project:
“For many patients, medical marijuana is a far safer alternative to opioids and other prescription drugs”
[MPP]

“We applaud the Senate for standing up for seriously ill West Virginians and giving them hope with this much-needed legislation,” said Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). Matt is a West Virginia native and graduate of West Virginia University.

“For many patients, medical marijuana is a far safer alternative to opioids and other prescription drugs,” Simon said. “Any delegates who are serious about addressing the opiate crisis in West Virginia need to consider the substantial benefits this law could have on that front.

“We hope Speaker Armstead will review the facts and give this bill a fair shake in the House,” Simon said.

A review of more than 10,000 scientific abstracts released in January by the National Academies of Sciences found “conclusive or substantial evidence” that cannabis is effective in the treatment of chronic pain. A study published this year in International Journal of Drug Policy found marijuana is an effective replacement for opioids to treat severe pain.

Research published in October 2016 found a 48 percent reduction in patients’ opioid use after three months of medical marijuana treatment, and patients using cannabis in addition to opioids found that 39 percent reduced their opioid dosage and another 39 percent stopped using opioids altogether. Health Affairs reported in July 2016 that doctors in states where marijuana is legal prescribed an average of 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers per year to patients enrolled in Medicare Part D, resulting in significant cost savings.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2014 found that opioid overdose deaths were reduced by 25 percent in states with effective medical marijuana laws.

“Thousands of seriously ill West Virginians are anxiously waiting for their lawmakers to do the right thing and pass this bill,” Simon said. “They shouldn’t have to suffer or be treated like criminals while patients in 28 other states can legally access medical marijuana.”

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted effective medical marijuana laws and 16 states have adopted medical marijuana laws that are ineffective because they are either unworkable or exceptionally restrictive. West Virginia is one of only six states in the nation that has not adopted any form of medical marijuana law.

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