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House takes up medical marijuana bill


The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON — After several hours of debate over two amendments, the West Virginia House approved a more restrictive change to a bill that would legalize medical marijuana and advanced the bill to a third reading today.

Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, described his amendment as “putting a toe in the water” instead of “plunging in head first,” characterizing the original Senate bill as the “wild, wild west.” He said this amendment was modeled after the Pennsylvania statute.

Under Shott’s amendment, which won approval, the Bureau for Public Health would operate the program. It would have an advisory board that would give guidance on how the program is administered. The bureau would certify a patient to be treated for one of the illnesses under the legislation along with the dosage of medication and the delivery for medication.

Those who supported Shott’s amendment said it is a more cautious approach that would not open access to marijuana to teens and would regulate it in such a way that there would be more quality control with less room for contaminated products.

Opponents to Shott’s amendment said it was cost prohibitive to people who could benefit from medical marijuana, is too restrictive on the number of dispensaries and growers, and would ultimately end up killing the bill because of views that the Senate would not support a drastic change from the original legislation.

An amendment by Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, would have kept the commission created under the original Senate bill to establish standards, come up with the number of licenses for growers, processors and dispensaries. The commission also would allow independent labs for testing as well as establish a state police lab. The commission also would set the amount of the fees based on a study of how many people apply for their card and what they need to run the program.

The original legislation as passed by the Senate was 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.

Shott said under his amendment, smoking and edible products would not be allowed. However, a person could get a pill, oil or topical forms. They also could put drops into edibles or into tea.

Once people got a certificate from the bureau, they could then go to a dispensary and have the product filled for a 30-day supply.

Five grower permits would be allowed and there would be 15 dispensaries for three regions. However, an amendment adopted later Monday night doubled the number of dispensaries to 30 and the number of growers to 10.

Shott’s amendment does not charge a sales tax at delivery. However, growers selling to a dispenser or the processor would be subject to a tax.

There would be fees for dispensaries and growers as well. Under the original amendment, there would be an initial fee of $10,000 for a permit grower, a $100,000 fee for permit growers/processors, and a renewal fee.

However, an amendment approved Monday night cut these fees in half — a $5,000 initial fee for growers, a $50,000 fee for growers and processors, a $5,000 renewal fee. It also reduced fees for dispensaries to $10,000 for each location and a $2,500 renewal fee.

Shott said the money would go to the bureau to operate the program, to the department of juvenile correctional services, to the police academy for training law enforcement, and to the governor’s Fight Substance Abuse Fund.

Members adopted other amendments Monday night including language cleanups, expanding reciprocity to terminally ill cancer patients to purchase cannabis in another state, broadening the scope of medical practitioners, and making child-resistant packaging.

A person also would have to get an ID card from the Bureau for Public Health for a $50 processing fee.

Pushkin’s amendment also would have applied an 8 percent excise tax to the sales of the product to the processor dispensary. This money also would have gone into the substance abuse fund, Department of Justice and Human Services and law enforcement training. A sales tax also would be applied to the dispensaries. Pushkin said this was important to put money back into general revenue.

Pushkin’s amendment also would have added treatment for opioid addiction as a condition for which medical marijuana could be prescribed and would allow a limited amount of smoking marijuana.

Another difference is Pushkin’s amendment would allow a person to have two flowering plants and two nonflowering plants and limit the amount of marijuana a person could have to 4 ounces.

Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said the difference in the amendments is that Shott’s “maintains the opioid monopoly that has cannibalized the state.” He expressed concerns with the fees and number of dispensaries, saying under the original amendment, there would be one dispensary for every 120,000 residents.

He said that under Shott’s amendment, people couldn’t smoke it, grow it or eat it, which he said restricted it to another pill for someone to take.

Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, spoke out against the amendment.

“We have a real opportunity and we don’t want to fail. We don’t want to miss out on this opportunity. This bill will die. It will not make it through the Senate. It doesn’t allow for smoking. It doesn’t allow edibles. It only allows for a narrowly tailored big pharma going forward. He mentioned before this was dipping your toe in the ocean. This is walking back across the street to the Motel 6 and not even getting to the beach.”

Delegate John O’Neal, R-Raleigh, said the reason it costs so much to get involved in the business is because it needs regulatory oversight and testing to prevent contamination.

Pushkin said allowing someone to grow their own plants would be better for people with cost and having a good product.

“If a cancer patient is allowed to grow their own, they can control the means of production and are less likely to have a bad product,” he said.

Shott said he rarely gets angry but got angry with members saying that he put “poison pills” into the bill. He also said he thought it was offensive that some of the members said the Senate would not approve anything different than the original bill.

“We should proceed cautiously,” Shott said. “That’s not to say be hard-hearted and immune to the cries for those who need assistance. This gives assistance. It gives a reasonable framework to provide assistance to those who need it.”

What happens next

The bill comes up for third reading in the House, where it will be approved or scuttled. If it passes the House, it will be sent back to the Senate for reapproval because the House modified the bill from what was approved by the Senate.

If the Senate disagrees with the amendments, the two bodies will conference to try to come to an agreement. If they cannot, the bill dies.

However, if the House changes are approved by the Senate, or the two come to an agreement, the bill would then go to Gov. Jim Justice for his signature or a veto.

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