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Medical marijuana uncertainty

The act would make it legal for doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical treatment, which has already been legalized in 28 states.

Last week, legislators made the rare move of bypassing a committee to consider the act and sent it directly to the House for first reading.

But on Friday morning, delegates voted to delay further action on the bill after a motion by Del. John Shott, R-Mercer County.

Shott told fellow legislators he wanted additional time to study the bill to “perfect” it.

Concerns included the legal aspects, whether it can be dispensed in edible form, child-proof packaging and proper product labeling.

Del. Joe Ellington, R-Mercer County, who is a medical doctor, said he has no issue with taking a closer look at it but he generally supports it.

“There are changes that may be made and it may be acceptable,” he said. “The legal issue is a concern. I want to make sure counsel is okay with immunity.”

Ellington said he wants to make sure it is used for medical purposes and not for widespread recreational use.

Another issue, he said, is related to federal laws regarding firearms.

“If you get a certificate for medical marijuana, you can’t possess a firearm,” he said. “That is something West Virginia may want to look at that may cause it to go down.”

Ellington said as far as its effectiveness with health problems is concerned, there is “some evidence” but no real studies suggest it so far.

“It’s hard to say what is really accurate and what is not,” he said. “People are very passionate on either end of it. In some cases it may be beneficial, for pain and nausea and oncology patients.”

Del. Ed Evans, D-McDowell County, also supports the bill.

“I am for medical marijuana, but it has to be for medical reasons,” he said. “I am not for the recreational use.”

Evans said he is not sure how the bill will end up in its final form when the second reading comes up Monday.

“We gave them the opportunity to make it better and I think they will probably do that,” he said.

Evans said he has had a lot of emails and calls about the bill, almost all in support.

“I don’t know much about it (medical benefits),” he said. “But I’m willing to learn. Almost everybody who has contacted me has been for it.”

Evans said if the bill had gone into a committee, it probably would not have come out this year, so that was the reason to send it directly to the House.

He will vote for it, he said, but would like to learn more about what it can and cannot do medically.

However, Del. Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer County, said he does not support the bill.

“I voted no on the procedure (to bypass committee) and I will vote no on the bill,” he said. “But my reasons are different.”

Gearheart said he supports anything that has medical value but he’s not sure that is the case with cannabis.

“I have heard a lot of anecdotal stories about its value and I take that into consideration,” he said. “But I have no specific work from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) about the benefits and the drawbacks. I am curious that under the Obama Administration, which was very amenable for cannabis, they never studied it.”

Gearheart said until he knows for sure that it has enough legitimate medical benefits to outweigh any drawbacks, and that it can be delivered in a manner that is safe for state residents, he is against it.

“It may pass, but an abundance of caution should be used to make sure it doesn’t violate federal laws, and it could be shut down by the feds if it moves forward,” he said.

Gearheart said he is aware of the public support of the bill.

“I don’t have anything in particular against it, no ax to grind,” he said. “I just think it may be premature.”

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), the FDA has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine, but has approved two medications that contain cannabinoid chemicals in pill form.

The NIDA said the FDA has not conducted enough large-scale clinical trials that show that the benefits of the plant outweigh its risks.

One cannabinoid in the plant, THC, is of medical interest because it can increase appetite and reduce nausea, the NIDA says. It also may decrease pain, inflammation and muscle control problems.

Another ingredient, CBD, may be useful in reducing pain and inflammation, controlling epileptic seizures, and possibly treating mental illness and addictions.

— Contact Charles Boothe at [email protected]

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