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Medical pot bill amended, now prohibits smoking, growing own plants


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would permit the use of medical marijuana, which was on second reading in the West Virginia House of Delegates, was amended on Monday so that it no longer allows patients to grow their own plants, prohibits smoking, and sets hefty fees for companies that grow and sell the marijuana, among other changes.

Del. John Scott, R-Mercer

The West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, when it passed the state Senate, would have created a West Virginia Medical Cannabis Commission in charge of overseeing medical marijuana regulation in the state, and set several other requirements.

In response to concerns House leadership would kill the bill, House members voted 54-40 to fast-track the bill and read it for a first time Thursday evening. Friday, House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, asked for more time to review the bill and propose an amendment, and no one objected to his request.

Monday, during second reading, Shott introduced an amendment he said was based on legislation in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota and New York. Instead of creating a cannabis commission, the bill placed medical cannabis regulation under DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health.

Shott said he took offense that medical marijuana supporters said he was trying to kill the bill, and added that he wanted to take a cautious approach.

“What kind of message is it going to send to a young person who enters Grandma’s house and sees marijuana growing on the ledge over the sink?” he said.

Supporters of the original bill took issue with his proposal because it prohibited smoking and required marijuana to be administered in a pill, oil, topical form, by vaporization or nebulization, tincture, liquid or dermal patch; because it prevented people from growing their own plants; and because it set a $100,000 annual fee for growers and processors.

“This amendment right here would mean favoring the haves and the one-percenters versus a bipartisan amendment which would be the have-nots — a lot of West Virginians,” said Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell.

During a late night debate, an amendment passed that cuts those fees in half. Shott supported that amendment.

Supporters of medical marijuana legislation also said they worried that the state Senate wouldn’t accept the bill and it would die during the reconciliation process.

Another strike-and-insert amendment, offered by Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, was more similar to the original bill, Senate Bill 386, sponsored by Sen.Richard Ojeda, D-Logan. It also would have set up a commission, allowed smoking and allowed people to grow their own plants.

“If it comes from a cow, you don’t have to check it but if it grows in a garden you got to check that,” Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D- Pendleton, said incredulously, referring to raw milk legislation the Legislature passed last year.

Pushkin’s amendment would have allowed the commission to set fees. He said Shott’s amendment would “limit it to the big guys.”

“We’re a huge producer of this product already,” he said.

Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, was upset that patients would have to make their own edibles under Shott’s amendment.

“My mom can’t even walk right now,” he said. “You vote for this bill, you know you’re voting against people using medical cannabis in this state.”

Shott’s amendment passed in a 51-48 vote, precluding Pushkin’s amendment from further consideration.

Republicans who voted against Shott’s amendment included: Saira Blair, R-Berkeley; Moore Capito, R-Kanawha; Mark Dean, R- Mingo; Michael Folk, R-Berkeley; Jordan Hill, R-Nicholas; Charlotte Lane, R-Kanawha; Zack Maynard, R-Lincoln; Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock; Carol Miller, R-Cabell; Riley Moore, R-Jefferson; Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming; Danny Wagner, R-Barbour; and Brad White, R-Kanawha.

All voters for Shott’s amendment were Republicans, except for Rick Moye, D-Raleigh.

Earlier Monday, the West Virginia Republican Platform Committee distributed a letter to lawmakers, asking them to vote against the medical marijuana bill.

The letter, which was addressed to WV House Republican members, notes that the state party’s 2016 platform states: “We support those who are practicing drug-abuse prevention efforts at the local and state levels and oppose the normalization, legalization, or decriminalization of any illicit drugs.”

“Thousands of Republicans gave input for the state party platform and now we ask you honor the will of those citizens,” the letter states, adding that “It is heartbreaking for our grassroots volunteers to see SB386 on the verge of becoming law.”

“In these final days of the legislative session and as you consider SB386, please remember 1 Peter 5:8: ‘Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour,’” the letter continues. “We ask our members to vote NO on Senate Bill 386.”

Conrad Lucas, state party chairman, said that such moves were not frequent but that the platform committee and state executive committee “felt very passionately about this matter.”

Also Monday, Bill Flanigan, a former delegate who spoke on the House floor last year about using medical marijuana during chemotherapy, was spotted at the state Capitol. After he spoke last year, delegates agreed to table a bill that would have lengthened prison terms for people bringing drugs into the state.

“I’m here to see why the guys who told me right to my face last year they would vote for a medical marijuana bill are saying this year they won’t vote for it,” he said.

Late Monday, delegates unanimously, with six people not present, passed an amendment changing the name of the bill to the “James Williams ‘Bill’ Flanigan and Lucile Gillespie Medical Cannabis Act.”

The bill advances to third reading, the final passage stage, on Tuesday. It would then need to be signed, or vetoed, by the governor.

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