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Action on marijuana bill postponed

By Andrea Lannom

The Register-Herald of Beckley

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Saying they wanted extra time to study some concerns of a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, especially regarding edibles, the House of Delegates voted unanimously to postpone further action until Monday.

Lawmakers acted Friday morning on a motion from Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, to “perfect” the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act and make any changes needed.

During Thursday night’s floor session, Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, succeeded with a motion to bypass sending the bill to the committee on the Judiciary and Health and Human Resources and instead send it to the floor for first reading.

Folk’s motion was approved 54-40 vote, advancing the bill to the amendment stage for Friday.

Shott said Friday he wanted the additional time for counsel to look at the bill. He added that he welcomes members of the majority who voted for the bypass motion to help perfect it.

His big concern deals with edibles, which he said seem to be permissible under the bill. He said he would like to have a section included dealing with child-proof packaging and identification on the product to distinguish it from other baked goods along with listing the THC content.

“The way I read this bill is a wild West approach,” Shott said before making his motion. “There are much more cautious and conservative approaches. My commitment to you is if you give my staff and counsel … time to present something to you on second reading on Monday, we will give you those choices.”

In an interview after Friday’s floor session, Folk said he doesn’t have a problem with looking it over on the weekend.

“If something needs to be cleaned up in the bill, I don’t have a problem with that. And as I understand it, the Senate Judiciary attorneys will be involved in the process this weekend as well to agree on the bill. If it doesn’t pass by mid-week next week, though, then leadership will have major issues,” Folk said.

“I was surprised they didn’t put it in Rules (Committee) this morning, but the reality is from the leadership point of view that the body overwhelmingly wants this,” Folk later said. “If it comes to vote on Tuesday, then based on the motion, we could have more than 60 people vote for it.”

Raleigh County delegates also reacted after Friday’s postponement of second reading. All said they support taking a second look.

Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, called Shott’s motion a “prudent decision.”

“What happened (Thursday) night was indicative of the support in the chamber, but also the general public, for us to take up the issue and for us to do what we probably should have done some time ago,” Bates said. “The decision to hold off until Monday is wise so we can thoroughly examine the bill so whatever product we pass from the House is the right bill and one the Senate will concur with and the governor will sign.”

Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, said he doesn’t have a problem with medical marijuana for people who could medically benefit from it. However, he said he thinks taking another look at it this weekend will be for the best.

“I wouldn’t want to hold out on something that would help,” he said. “The problem is how do we regulate it to only a few people who need to have access to it. The bill in its current form is way too broad, as Delegate Shott said. The question is can the House reach an agreement for it to truly be for a medical basis and not for someone who has a toe ache to decide if they want it.”

Raleigh County Republican John O’Neal voted against Folk’s motion Thursday night, saying he wished the bill could have gone through the committee process so lawmakers could hear more from experts in the legal and health care fields.

“What occurred (Thursday) night was unprecedented,” he said. “We had 36 Democrats and 18 Republicans to short circuit the well-established process to vet bills and send them to committees so experts can communicate and help craft legislation. It was sent to Health and Judiciary to get expert testimony from the legal system and 36 Democrats and 18 Republicans voted to say they don’t want to hear from the experts.

“I’m outraged and disappointed that they would choose to reject expert testimony to produce a good bill, which is why I invited people from the medical community and law enforcement to make themselves available today for comment,” O’Neal added, noting he had invited people in these fields after Friday’s floor session for legislators to talk to if they wished.

O’Neal said he liked Shott’s motion to postpone second reading because he said, in his view, the bill in its current state is very broad, calling it the “wild West for marijuana bills.”

Like Shott, one of O’Neal’s many concerns involves edibles, as well as increased highway fatalities.

“In other states where marijuana was legalized, children died from getting edibles because they look like gummies or cookies,” O’Neal said.

“My heart breaks for the parent of a child suffering from a medical condition,” he said, later adding, “While I don’t want to downplay those hurting, I want to take into consideration a parent of a child where the child gets killed by an impaired driver carrying a prescription … It’s not just compassion on the people suffering. It’s compassion on what would happen if we dramatically increase the amount of marijuana in the state.”

Andrea Lannom is a reporter with The (Beckley) Register-Herald, a sister newspaper of the Times West Virginian.

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, who supported the motion, said he had a good conversation with House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha. The speaker has previously said he wants to leave the issue up to the FDA to decide and also wondered if the new U.S. Attorney General would enforce federal law against marijuana.

Miley said he supported Shott’s motion to ensure they have the best product possible that the Senate also will embrace.

“I want everyone to know that despite the unhealthy dose of paranoia and skepticism in the (legislative) body, everyone is prepared to move forward with this issue, whether we are for or against this issue.”

In a press conference earlier this week, Gov. Jim Justice said he is an advocate of medical marijuana.

“If any one of us know someone where the doctor said it will help, then why in the world are we standing in the way? I’m an absolute opponent to legalizing marijuana (for non-medical use) because of the drug epidemic in the state,” he said.

The legislation as passed by the Senate Wednesday is modeled after Maryland’s law and would allow medical marijuana to be prescribed for certain medical conditions including anorexia, severe or chronic pain where standard pain medication is not effective, severe nausea, severe muscle spasms and PTSD.

The bill has a tiered rollout, becoming effective July 1, 2018. It also would create a Medical Cannabis Commission with the power to oversee the program. The commission would be in charge of licensing fees, which would go into the General Revenue Fund annually, along with creating rules.

Andrea Lannom is a reporter with The (Beckley) Register-Herald, a sister newspaper of the Times West Virginian.

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