Latest News, WVPA Sharing

DOJ instructed to leave WV’s medical marijuana law alone


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In the agreement lawmakers in Congress reached Sunday night, the words “West Virginia” are added to the federal spending plan in a new section — the list of states the Department of Justice is instructed not to interfere with regarding medical marijuana laws.

Section 537 of the 1,600 page document states that “None of the funds made Available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of (a list of states and territories, including West Virginia) to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment first became law in 2014, but must be re-approved each year.

“Ever since then, they were going after dispensaries if they weren’t clearly complying with the state laws,” said Matt Simon, New England political director and legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. “As far as busting patients, it hasn’t been federal policy. It’s been explicitly prohibited.”

Simon, who is a native of West Virginia, said some in medical marijuana states had been concerned a government shutdown would remove the protection.

The law allows doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients and gives the DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health regulatory oversight. Some lawmakers who were opposed to West Virginia’s medical marijuana bill, argued during the 2017 legislative session that the federal government could come after West Virginia if it implemented the law.

“Those weren’t good arguments,” Simon said. “There was never any risk the federal government would do that. Even under the Bush administration, the federal government did not arrest any patients that we ever heard of. The federal government is limited to going after major traffickers. They can’t even begin to think about busting people for a few plants.”

Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan and the lead sponsor of the medical marijuana bill, said the addition of West Virginia to the amendment is “great news.” As for arguments from the opposition during the session, he said, “They were trying to figure out how to derail the train, and they couldn’t.”

Reached Monday, Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette and one of the lawmakers who warned of breaking federal law, said, “I know this selective inaction has taken place in the past, but it doesn’t make it right.”

He noted that marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, the category the Drug Enforcement Administration considers the most dangerous.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently said the medicinal use of marijuana had “been hyped, maybe too much,” and that the nation “needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”

“Despite some recent comments by the attorney general, the administration has not indicated any interest whatsoever in undermining medical cannabis laws, and Congress is not going to let them,” Simon said. “West Virginia has nothing to worry about on that front.”

The Marijuana Policy Project, a group that advocates nationally for marijuana legalization, wasn’t involved in the bill’s passage during the 2017 session, although it sent emails to supporters about it.

Simon said, last month in an email, that “frankly we didn’t think there was any chance of getting a bill passed over the objections of Speaker [Tim] Armstead and his leadership team. Our resources are limited, so we have to pick the battles we see as being winnable, and West Virginia didn’t appear to meet that standard.”

After the bill passed the Senate, members of the House of Delegates, fearing House leadership would kill the bill, agreed to dispense with committee references and bring the bill to a vote. House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, proposed a stricter version of the bill, which bans smoking and prohibits the growing of plants, that was accepted by a majority of delegates.

The law states that Patient ID cards won’t be distributed until July 2019.

See more from the Charleston Gazette-Mail

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

And get our latest content in your inbox

Invalid email address