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Legislature sends several big measures to Justice for action


The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The 2017 regular session of the West Virginia Legislature may be remembered as the year the Mountain State approved medical marijuana.

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, crafted an amendment to a Senate medical marijuana bill, but supported a competing amendment when the bill came up for a final vote.
(WV Legislative photo)

From an idea that had no chance of passage at the beginning of the 60-day legislative session, the medical use of marijuana went from a proposal in the Senate to a forced vote on the floor of the House of Delegates within a few days.

If signed by Gov. Jim Justice, the measure would make West Virginia the 29th state to legalize medical use of marijuana.

Two different bills to legalize marijuana were introduced in the House early in the legislative session, including a detailed bill introduced by Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, that would have set up a commission that would deal with the medical use of the substance. Neither was allowed to be discharged from committee.

Marijuana legalization bills had been introduced in the House for the past several years, but House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, has been both morally opposed and afraid the federal government would crack down on states that legalized the drug. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

But Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, introduced Senate Bill 386. The bill would allow for the medical use of marijuana, under the care of a doctor, for the treatment of PTSD, cancer, comfort care for the terminally ill and other legitimate uses. Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, has said he favored the medical use of marijuana, and he allowed the bill to come to a vote. Senate Bill 386 passed the Senate by a vote of 28-6.

When the bill reached the House, rather than take the chance of its languishing in committee, Delegate Mike Folk, R-Berkeley, made a motion that the bill advance without being sent to any committee. After lengthy debate, the motion passed by a vote of 54-40.

On its second reading, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, asked for a delay to make improvements to the bill.

“My philosophy has always been, even if you don’t like something, you should do your best to make it the very best it can be,” Shott said on the floor.

Both Shott and Pushkin worked on amendments to Senate Bill 386 a weekend, and the amendments were taken up for consideration when the bill reached third reading. Shott’s amendment won, and the House approved an amended medical marijuana bill 76-24. Under the amended bill, with which the Senate agreed, a doctor would be allowed to give a patient a certificate to use medical marijuana, which could be administered by pill, ointment, patch, tincture, oil or vapor, but not smoked.

The bill would require the state to license marijuana growers, processors and dispensaries, all of which would pay hefty licensing fees. The bill would go into effect in 2019, but patients with certain types of terminal cancer would be able to get medical marijuana from states with similar strict medical marijuana provisions beginning in 2018.

Several delegates said they were worried legalizing the medical use of marijuana was the first step in legalizing the drug for recreational purposes. Shott, who had initially been against the legalization of marijuana, spoke and voted in favor of the bill when it came up for a final vote. Shott said he had received calls and emails from people angry with him because they said the bill went too far, and from people on the other side of the debate mad because they said the bill didn’t go far enough in providing relief for those suffering pain.

Pushkin, whose amendment had included provisions that would have allowed patients to smoke marijuana for medical purposes and grow up to four plants for personal use if they couldn’t afford to pay for medication, also spoke in favor of the bill when it came up for a final vote. Pushkin said the amended bill was a step in the right direction.

Other significant legislation completed by the 83rd Legislature and awaiting action from the governor include:

  • Senate Joint Resolution 6, which would allow for a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment to allow the sale of $1.6 billion in road construction bonds. The resolution was requested by Justice as part of his infrastructure improvement plan and would likely be paid for by increases to DMV fees.
  • House Bill 3093, which would allow for broadband internet expansion in the state. Championed by Delegate Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, the bill would increase the authority of the state Broadband Council to monitor broadband expansion and develop broadband policy, allow communities and businesses to set up co-ops to access federal grant money to extend internet service, allow microtrenching for underground cable and expedite the process for attaching internet cables to utility poles. The Senate added an amendment that would provide loan guarantees for companies that want to expand broadband service.
  • House Bill 2002, which would make it more difficult for an unemancipated minor to get an abortion without notifying a parent. A minor seeking an abortion who might be a victim of rape or incest would have to get a court order to waive parental notification requirements. An amendment approved in the House of Delegates would have allowed a doctor to go to court on behalf of a minor; the amendment also would have allowed a psychiatrist or psychologist to decide it was in a child’s best interest not to notify a parent. The House amendment was removed by the Senate, however.
  • Senate Bill 68, which would make changes to mine safety laws. The bill would remove stream monitoring testing of insects and crustaceans that might give early warning of stream pollution.

The House and Senate also approved several bills increasing the penalties on drug crimes, created several new drug statutes and passed a bill requiring the state to provide more drug treatment facilities.

The Legislature went into the final day of the legislative session with several education-related bills unresolved. In the final hours of the session, the body approved a measure that would allow county school systems to offer full-time virtual education from kindergarten through 12th grade, while still receiving full state formula funding for each participating student. Another completed measure that came down to the final hour would allow homeschooled students to participate in Secondary Schools Activities Commission sports. Lawmakers also completed legislation on House Bill 2589, which would allow homeschooled students and students from private schools to take part in county vocational school programs without having to pay more than students in the public school system.

House Bill 2651, which would have aligned private school testing standards with public school standards, was sent to the Senate rules committee Saturday night, where it never emerged.

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