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Medical marijuana bill passes muster


The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Legislature on Thursday completed its work on a bill that establishes standards and practices for a medical marijuana industry in the Mountain State.

The West Virginia House of Delegates agreed to some of the technical changes made to Senate Bill 386 just before 7 p.m. in a vote of 74-24, ending a legislative whirlwind that carried the bill from the Senate to completion in the House in one week.

The bill now will advance to Gov. Jim Justice for his consideration.

In the final vote to approve the bill, delegates from Cabell and Wayne counties voted 5-3, just as they did when the bill originally was passed Tuesday.

For the second time, those supporting SB 386 were Dels. Ken Hicks, D-Wayne; Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell; Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell; Carol Miller, R-Cabell; and Robert Thompson, D-Wayne. Those voting against the bill were Dels. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell; Chuck Romine, R-Cabell; and Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell.

Senate Bill 386, also known as the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, establishes the legislature as the rule-making and oversight body for the medical marijuana industry. The West Virginia Bureau of Health would be responsible for overseeing certification, permitting and licensure within the industry.

The bill sets tight parameters as to how marijuana can be consumed, including pills, oil, topical treatments and mists. The bill also limits the number of medical marijuana growers and dispensaries in the state. Up to 10 growers and 30 dispensaries are allowed in the state under the proposed law.

The measure does not allow for any person, regardless of certification or prescription, to grow marijuana for personal use.

The law would require certifications and permits for physicians, growers and dispensaries. The law also established a process by which people who are prescribed medical marijuana would be issued a certificate, which they would use to obtain a license to get their prescription. The license would cost $50 and have to be renewed annually.

The measure also establishes a fee structure for opening a dispensary or beginning a medical marijuana growing operation.

To have a growing operation, interested parties would have to pay a $5,000 application fee and a $50,000 permit fee. Those operating dispensaries would have to pay $5,000 each year to renew their permits.

Those who want to have a dispensary would have to pay a $2,500 application fee, a $10,000 permit fee and $2,500 annually to renew their permits.

The bill also will allow for reciprocity agreements between West Virginia and its medical marijuana border states. Only terminally ill cancer patients would be able to take advantage of the reciprocity agreement.

The measure also requires medical marijuana be contained in child-proof packaging.

When it passed the Senate on March 29, SB 386 was more open-ended.

It would have established a state cannabis commission to establish industry standards for growing, processing and prescribing medical marijuana. The Senate version of the bill gave the commission more discretion to establish standards than the House version of the bill, which has the legislature establishing those standards.

In the Senate’s version, the commission also would have had the authority to establish means 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.

The bill completed its journey against big odds in the GOP-led legislature following a sometimes contentious journey through the House, starting Thursday, March 30.

Rumors spread March 30 that SB 386 was going to be stopped by having Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, not receive the report that the bill had passed the Senate. There also were concerns the bill would be killed by other means in the committee process.

Following an onslaught of emails and calls from constituents and about an hour of debate, House members voted that day to have SB 386 skip the committee process, allowing it to advance to the full House.

On March 31, House members approved a motion by House Judiciary Chairman John Shott to delay considering the bill until Monday to give delegates time to read the bill and craft amendments to it.

On Monday, April 3, Shott said it hadn’t been his intention to kill the bill, but he did want to slow it down.

House members chose Shott’s overhaul of the bill over a proposal from Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, following three hours of debate Monday. They approved Shott’s version in a 51-48 margin. With the approval of Shott’s amendment, Pushkin’s amendment wasn’t brought up for a vote.

Compared to the final bill that has passed, Pushkin’s amendment relied more on the establishment of the West Virginia Cannabis Commission, which would have made regulatory recommendations to be approved by the legislature. It also allowed more flexibility in consumption, homegrown plants and the establishment of permitting and licensing fees.

The next day, Pushkin offered his support for the measure, which was approved by the House by a vote of 76-24.

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