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House of Delegates approves amendments to medical marijuana bill


The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia could be on the verge of legalizing the medical use of marijuana. The movement came after a 4 1/2-hour debate in the House of Delegates that ended at about 11 p.m. Monday.

The House agreed late in the afternoon to a strike-and-insert amendment to a medical marijuana bill the Senate passed on day 50 of the 60-day regular legislative session. House members then spent another 90 minutes debating amendments to that version of the legislation.

The medical marijuana bill was advanced to third reading with a final vote expected Tuesday.

House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, had apparently not intended to allow the medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, to come to a vote, but his hand was forced when members of the House moved to advance the bill Thursday without it being referred to committee.

Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, then asked to have the weekend to work on an amendment intended to improve the bill.

Shott and Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, worked on two separate strike-and-insert amendments over the weekend. Pushkin’s version relied heavily on a medical marijuana bill he had introduced earlier in the legislative session that never made it out of committee.

Delegates therefore had two different strike-and-insert amendments to consider Monday. While similar in many regards, Pushkin’s amendment would have allowed for the smoking of marijuana, set up a commission of doctors, pharmacists, prosecutors and law enforcement officials to regulate the use of marijuana and would have taxed the industry in an attempt to provide revenue for the state general fund. The Pushkin amendment also would have allowed patients who couldn’t afford to pay for medical marijuana to grow up to four plants for their own use.

Shott likened his amendment to putting a toe in the water to test the temperature, instead of the Senate version of the bill, which he compared to jumping in head-first. He said his amendment was modeled on medical marijuana legislation passed in Pennsylvania.

Under the Shott version of the bill, the regulation of marijuana would be placed under the state Bureau of Public Health. A doctor would prescribe marijuana, which patients could take as a pill, patch, oil, vapor or topical, but the drug could not be smoked or given in edible form unless the patient put it in food themselves. A patient would be required to pay for a $50 photo ID, and potential growers, processors and dispensaries would pay a licensing fee of up to $100,000.

The state would limit the number of licensed growers in the state to five, and the number of dispensaries to 15 under the proposed amendment.

Opponents to Shott’s amendment, such as Del. Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said the hefty fees and delivery methods called for under the legislation would mean only large pharmaceutical companies could afford to manufacture medicinal marijuana products. Opponents also feared the bill was so different from the Senate version that senators would fail to concur with the changes and kill the bill altogether.

Under the rules adopted in the House concerning the competing amendments, voting for one strike-and-insert amendment would preclude the other from consideration, and Shott’s amendment came up for debate first. After three hours of debate, the House voted 51-48 in favor of the amendment, knocking Pushkin’s version out of the running.

After a lengthy break, during which the House Finance Committee discussed the House’s proposed budget bill, the full House reconvened to consider 18 amendments to the Shott version of the bill. Among those that passed were an amendment to require child-resistant packaging for medicinal marijuana products and an amendment offered by Del. Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, to cut the licensing fees in half and double the number of facilities authorized under the legislation.

An amendment offered by Pushkin to allow the smoking of marijuana as an approved delivery method failed by a vote of 46-51.

In other action Monday, the House voted to sweep $101 million from reappropriated monies from idle state accounts, special revenue accounts and the state’s rainy day fund to plug the last remaining hole in the 2016-2017 budget. House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said the plan, which was approved by the governor, would take about $61 million from reappropriated and special revenues and about $40 million from the rainy day fund.

The House also voted 94-5 to approve Senate Bill 173, which would create regulations for the use of autocycles, which are three-wheeled enclosed vehicles that are like a combination of a car and a motorcycle.

Under the legislation, drivers could operate an autocycle with a regular driver’s license without having to take a motorcycle examination and also would be exempt from motorcycle helmet requirements.

House members also voted on an amended version of Senate Bill 224, which would remove requirements for contractors to put up a wage bond to cover employee salaries in the event the company goes bankrupt or skips town.

The original Senate bill did away completely with wage bond requirements, but the House amended the bill to require a wage bond for employers who have been in business less than a year. The bill passed by a vote of 85-14.

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