By LACIE PIERSON
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia House of Delegates advanced the West Virginia Cannabis Act following a major overhaul of the bill Monday night.
Members of the House approved an amendment following a nearly three-hour long debate over two amendments that restructured the bill, one with a lead sponsor in House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, and the other with lead sponsorship from Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha.
Shott’s amendment eventually garnered the support of the majority of House members, passing in a vote of 51-48.
“I think we’ve done it in a very careful and cautious manner,” Shott said after the vote. “I think the Senate will see that and agree to it. I’m hopeful this will get behind us and move on.”
With the approval of Shott’s amendment, Pushkin’s amendment wasn’t brought to a vote.
The vote came after a weekend-long delay to consider the bill to allow delegates to read Senate Bill 386, the cannabis act, and craft amendments to it.
Delegates on both side of the issue by and large commended one another on what they described as an open process in crafting the dueling amendments to the bill that passed the West Virginia Senate on March 29.
Those who supported Shott’s amendment said it would provide more regulatory oversight for the medical marijuana industry, and its detractors said it was an attempt to kill the bill or make it difficult for the industry, whether through growing, distributing or using medical marijuana.
Those who supported Pushkin’s amendment said it allowed for a more home-grown and accessible medical marijuana industry that relied more on the plant and its derivatives than from pills and other manufactured forms of it. Its detractors argued it didn’t provide enough legislative and regulatory oversight, leaving more discretion to a proposed state cannabis commission than the legislature.
The bill remains in second reading with amendments pending.
Delegates from Cabell and Wayne counties split 4-4 along party lines.
Democrats Sean Hornbuckle and Chad Lovejoy, both of Cabell, and Ken Hicks and Robert Thompson, both of Wayne, voted against Shott’s amendment.
Republicans Carol Miler, Kelli Sobonya, Chuck Romine and Matt Rohrbach all supported Shott’s amendment.
At press time, other amendments were pending in the House.
As it stood at press time, Shott’s amendment that was approved by the House posts the legislature as the rule-making and oversight body for the medical marijuana industry, and the West Virginia Bureau of Health would be responsible for overseeing certification, permitting and licensure within the industry.
Shott’s amendment sets tight parameters as to how marijuana could be consumed, including pills, topical treatments, and mists.
Shott’s version also limits the number of medical marijuana growers in the state to five, and the number of dispensaries allowed in the state would be 15.
The amendment also does not allow for any person, regardless of certification, to grow marijuana for personal use.
Shott’s and Pushkin’s amendments would require certifications and permits for physicians, growers, and dispensaries. Pushkin’s unconsidered amendment also would have allowed certification process for laboratories in the state to do research into medical marijuana.
Shott’s version also included a process by which people who are prescribed medical marijuana would be issued a certificate, which they would use in obtaining a license to get their prescription. The license would cost $50 and have to be renewed annually.
Shott said he also intentionally crafted significant fees for opening a dispensary or begin a medical marijuana growing operation.
To have a growing operation, interested parties would have to pay a $10,000 application fee and a $100,000 permit fee. Those operating dispensaries would have to pay $10,000 each year to renew their permits.
Those who wanted to have a dispensary would have to pay a $5,000 application fee, a $25,000 permit fee and $5,000 annually to renew their permits.
Pushkin’s amendment had relied more on the establishment of the West Virginia Cannabis Commission, which would have made recommendations to be approved by the legislature.
In addition to those proposed in Shott’s amendment, Pushkin’s amendment included more ways marijuana could be consumed, albeit with some limitations, including smoking, oils and edibles.
Instead of a strict fee structure, Pushkin’s amendment also would have allowed the commission to set prices for applications, licenses and permits based on demand and research into medical usefulness.
When it passed the Senate, SB 386 was more open-ended.
It would have established a state commission to issue identification cards to patients and caregivers and consider the drug’s use for chronic or debilitating diseases or conditions.
The bill also included a measure that would allow people with prescriptions to grow up to two plants of their own.
All versions of the bill so far have established related criminal law for people who have or use medical marijuana without valid certifications or prescriptions to do so.
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