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Senate Judiciary addresses issues with hemp oils in HB 2526

By Lexi Browning

For The West Virginia Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Senate Judiciary Committee this week made strides to clarify language in House Bill 2526 that would allow FDA-approved hemp-derived cannabidiol oils – which are often used to treat pediatric epilepsy – to be sold, distributed and prescribed in West Virginia.

H.B. 2526, lead-sponsored by Del. Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, also adds certain drugs and controlled substances and further classifies the substances categorically as Schedule I, II, III, IV or V. Delegates Amy Summers, R-Taylor, Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, and Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, also sponsored the bill.

Delegate Joe Ellington

On Thursday, Morgan Leach, director of the West Virginia Hemp Industries Association, testified against the introductory text’s misleading language.

The bill’s text was amended to include the specific guidelines laid out by West Virginia Code in Chapter 60A: the Uniform Controlled Substances Act.

Initially, Leach said, the bill would cause confusion regarding CBD classifications. The now-amended text would differentiate CBD derived from hemp versus CBD extracted from marijuana according to state code.

“This revision protects West Virginia Hemp Farmers’ ability to cultivate and process hemp for CBD,” Leach said. “This is one of our biggest revenue streams that will help make our farmers more money as they begin to develop this crop in WV.”

According to Leach, cannabidiol oil can be extracted in various methods, specifically “with dry ice, ethanol and supercritical CO2.”

“The basic idea is using a solvent to extract the resin from the plant, which can be concentrated into a crude oil and refined further to make all types of products, including tinctures, capsules, vape liquids, cosmetics and topicals,” Leach said.

Leach said the difference in hemp was the THC concentration of 0.3 percent and less, whereas the THC content in marijuana reaches 10 percent or higher, “which is responsible for the high associated with cannabis,” he added.

The primary goal of the WVHIA is to assist West Virginia hemp farmers in diversifying the economy and decreasing unemployment, Leach said.

“Adding a cash crop into the business model will help farms become more profitable,” Leach said. “We will become a catalyst for entrepreneurship and innovation in this state that will create new jobs and new business. Our goals are to [build] industries around food products, dietary supplements, cosmetics and topicals, paper, textiles, bio-plastics, advanced battery technologies and much more.”

For Leach and others in the industrial hemp industry, the passed amendment can protect the industry and its hemp supplement production, which accounts for “one of the biggest revenue streams” for the growing hemp industry.

“Cannabidiol has been used as a medicine for millennia and was a common analgesic drug prior to aspirin,” Leach added. “Studies show that it is useful as an anti-inflammatory drug, anti-seizure drug, anti-anxiety drug, improves immune health and offers many other benefits.”

Currently, the Drug Enforcement Administration categorizes marijuana as a Schedule I substance with “high potential” for abuse. Other substances in the category include heroin, LSD, ecstasy, methaqualone and peyote.

Michael Goff, Controlled Substance Monitoring Program administrator for the W.Va. Board of Pharmacy, echoed the board’s support of cannabidiols that are approved by the FDA and scheduled by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Sen. Robert Beach

Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, spoke in support of the amendment following the committee’s adjournment.

“Any time you can clarify sections of code, it’s a positive step in the right direction with any piece of legislation. In this particular case, it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Beach said.

Beach said his wife, who teaches a course section on industrial hemp at Pierpont Community and Technical College, prompted his support for the industry.

“It’s about a six-week section of that block, and she teaches on design,” Beach said. “As a matter of fact, she was hoping to be here earlier this week for industrial hemp day so she could bring down some textile samples she ordered specially for the event.”

The hemp samples, Beach described, were “impressive” and “similar to silk.”

Beach said the industrial hemp industry was gaining traction in Monongalia County and that more residents statewide were learning to differentiate industrial hemp from marijuana.

“That’s the education process here on the floor,” Beach said. “I think we’re getting closer on the Senate side. With industrial hemp’s overall usefulness in 25,000 products worldwide, it’s an opportunity for West Virginia to explore.”

H.B. 2526 was reported to the Senate floor with the recommendation that it pass.

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