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Lawmakers react to Thursday medical marijuana debate

By Andrea LannomRegister-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — After an amendment that would reclassify marijuana failed on the House floor Thursday, some delegates said they believe the issue could be dead for the session.

However, they said the debate was historic, saying Thursday represented the first time medical marijuana was discussed on the West Virginia House floor.

The House took up the committee substitute for House Bill 2526 on Friday, which is an annual bill that updates the Uniform Controlled Substances Act from the Board of Pharmacy. Thursday, Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, proposed an amendment that would reclassify medical marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule IV. It was shot down in a 35-64 vote.

Currently, marijuana is under Schedule I, a classification that means it has no medicinal use. Moving it to Schedule IV would allow it to be medically prescribed, Fluharty explained.

Fluharty delivered an emotional speech in support of his amendment, saying the intent is to help people. He said if the intent were to legalize marijuana, then legislators would run a legalization bill.

“This does not do that,” Fluharty said. “Let’s not fall for fear. Where is the fear in just helping people? Why are we so scared to help people?”

Fluharty said medical marijuana could help veterans, mentioning Veterans Visibility Day last week. He also mentioned medical marijuana as a treatment option for cancer and epilepsy.

“Facts tell us, not fear, that veterans suffer from opioid overdoses at nearly twice the national average,” he said. Twice. If they go to a VA hospital in West Virginia, they don’t have the option for medical cannabis. If they go to 28 other states, they do.”

“We have a duty to make sure we have visibility on veterans, not just when they’re here and we clap for them but when the doors close,” Fluharty later said. “This amendment does that.”

After Friday’s floor session, Fluharty said he thought Thursday was a historic day.

Delegate Lynn Arvon, R-Raleigh

“I’m disappointed in the vote but I’m happy we had the debate,” he said. “It was a historic day. Until yesterday, it had never been debated. We need to have conversations about this.

Three Raleigh County delegates Friday defended their votes on the amendment.

Delegate Lynn Arvon, R-Raleigh, said she voted against the amendment because she didn’t believe the current bill was an appropriate place for it.

“No. 1, it was not the appropriate place to do a medical marijuana bill. You have to take into account who is allowed to grow it, who can prescribe it. This would open a can of worms that people who are dealing with drug addictions are not ready. I’m opposed because of that,” she said.

Arvon said there could be medical benefits but said a medical marijuana bill would have to be narrow in scope. For example, she said medical marijuana would be more in line with a prescription from a neurologist or oncologist instead of a family practice.

“We would have to take a look at a detailed bill to keep it narrow so it’s not in the hands of young people,” Arvon said. “We’ve seen what happens with opiates, which we are starting to get a handle on. We don’t want to have the same problem happening with this. That’s why it has to be a narrow scope.”

Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh

She said if the amendment had passed, it would have created a situation where anyone could say they needed it for any reason.

“There was no boundaries to it,” she said. “With the drug problem in this state, I didn’t feel it was appropriate.”

Arvon said she was concerned with the drug epidemic and said she thinks West Virginia should proceed with caution.

“Since we are No. 1, we have to be careful how we do it,” she said. “I’m not saying we never do it, but it was not appropriate to do it (Thursday).”

Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh

Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, voted in favor of the amendment. He said he thinks the issue is “clearly dead for the session.”

“It got more attention that it ever has,” Bates said. “The issue is not going away. (Thursday’s) vote was as much a protest of not seriously considering medical cannabis. It was probably more symbolic than practical.”

Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, said he does not oppose the use of medical marijuana, but said the if the amendment had been successful, the bill would not address criteria for prescribing it.

“It wouldn’t restrict limits or training for those who would use it,” he said. “I don’t want to open the floodgates as we did with opioids.”

He said even if marijuana were reclassified and physicians were able to write prescriptions, it wouldn’t have legalized anything to where someone could get a prescription filled.

“There was no mechanism for that,” Moye said. “And it was problematic. It needs to go through the committee process. To that end, I hate it for those who can really benefit from this because I know there are people who can but we have to be careful in moving forward with it because we’ve all seen what happened with opioids and we don’t want to repeat that same problem.

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha

 “They need to put it on the agenda and run the bill and those discussions could take place then,” Moye said.

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, is the lead sponsor another marijuana-based bill, The Patient Freedom Act or House Bill 2677. Fluharty also is a sponsor.

Under this bill, cannabis would be treated like other medicines and West Virginians would be allowed to use it without civil or criminal penalties if a doctor advised that using cannabis would provide a medical benefit.

It also defines under what medical conditions medical marijuana could be used. It would require registration of patients and caregivers and require registry identification cards.

It also would establish licenses for growing medical marijuana indoors by registered patients, caregivers or distribution centers.

“We have a bill but leadership refuses to run the bill and by not running the bill they’re doing a disservice to the health of West Virginia,” Fluharty said.

The bill is triple referenced to the Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse, the Committee on Health and Human Resources and then the Committee on the Judiciary.

“It’s referred to three committees and they purposefully did it so it will never pass,” Fluharty said. “It’s dead on arrival.”

Delegate Amy Summers, R-Taylor, explained HB 2526’s purpose is to update substances on the schedule and make recommendations to add or delete certain substances. She said the bill adds 24 substances and salts to the list. In the bill, it lists drugs out by chemical properties rather than their names.

The committee substitute also adds a new section related to cannabidiol. It doesn’t place it on the schedule but leaves it to the Drug Enforcement Agency to schedule it upon approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

A provision in the bill adds that if there is a directive from the DEA when the Legislature is out of session, the Board of Pharmacy will place it on the schedule without waiting until the next session.

All 98 members present voted for the bill’s passage.

— Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom

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