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Medical marijuana shot down in West Virginia


The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — A majority of Northern Panhandle lawmakers voting Thursday supported legalizing medical marijuana, but the amendment sponsored by Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, failed by a vote of 64-35.

 “I think it’s dead in this session,” Fluharty said after the Thursday vote in the House of Delegates.

“It was great to have the debate — that was step one,” he said, referring to the nearly two-hour discussion regarding his floor amendment to House Bill 2526.

The amendment called for re-classifying marijuana in state guidelines as a Schedule IV drug: a non-narcotic drug with low potential for abuse. “It allows for the prescription of medical cannabis,” he said.

Currently, both state and federal law classify marijuana Schedule I drug, a category that also includes drugs such as heroin.

“It’s a shame that legislators are putting politics above the health of our residents,” Fluharty said after vote against the amendment, co-sponsored by Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton.

“This amendment would have allowed doctors to be doctors, and prescribe medicinal cannabis if they thought it was proper for their patients,” Fluharty said.

Along with Fluharty, Northern Panhandle delegates supporting the legalization of medical marijuana included: Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock; Phil Diserio, D-Brooke; Erikka Storch, R-Ohio; Mike Ferro, D-Marshall; and Joe Canestraro, D-Marshall.

Among those opposing the measure were delegates Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock; Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel; and William R. Romine, R-Tyler.

Nonetheless, the amendment was historic in that it brought the medical marijuana debate to the House of Delegates floor.

“I would urge the members to understand that this is an historic day, that we would discuss the legalization of marijuana on this floor,” Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said during the debate, while speaking in favor of the amendment, and urging leadership to have the matter discussed in committees.

Rowe said the amendment has let “Frankenstein out of the castle,” but a vote against the amendment would be putting him back inside. Rowe and other delegates debated the amendment for nearly two hours during the bill’s second reading, before rejecting it.

The bill, HB2526 — a piece of legislation that is done each year to classify and reclassify drugs based on state standards — succeeded in passing on to its third reading.

Fluharty said he made this floor amendment because House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, “will not run” HB2677, a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.

Fluharty said it’s obvious that the speaker doesn’t want the bill to succeed. That’s based on Armstead’s having assigned HB2677 to three committees, rather than the usual two; and because the bill still hasn’t moved out of a committee, although the legislative session is already halfway complete.

“Our leadership doesn’t have the guts to run the bill,” Fluharty said, noting that it’s a bill to help care for West Virginians.

For example, other states that have legalized medical marijuana have seen a 25 percent drop in their opioid overdose rates, he said.

During his sometimes tearful plea during the debate, Fluharty recounted loved ones who could benefit from being prescribed marijuana.

It’s known to help ease symptoms of epilepsy, cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder, and more, he said.

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