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Senate passes medical marijuana act; measure moves to House


The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — At the end of a marathon 11-hour session, the West Virginia Senate passed a bill Wednesday that will legalize medical marijuana.

Known as the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, Senate Bill 386, passed in a 28-6 vote. The vote was postponed several times during the day, winding up at the end of the day’s calendar.

It now moves to the House where it faces an uncertain future. A similar measure failed there earlier in the session and Speaker of the House Tim Armstead previously has said it should be up to the FDA to decide.

 Morgan County Republican Sen. Charles Trump said the Senate bill was modeled after Maryland’s law and would allow medical marijuana to be prescribed for certain medical conditions including anorexia, severe or chronic pain where standard pain medication is not effective, severe nausea, seizures, severe muscle spasms and PTSD.

The bill has a tiered rollout, becoming effective July 1, 2018. It also would create a Medical Cannabis Commission with the power to oversee the program. The commission would have 16 members including the secretary of the DHHR, commissioner of agriculture, the state treasurer, a drug counselor, nurse practitioner, a member of law enforcement and members appointed by the governor. They would serve four-year terms.

The commission would be in charge of fees for licenses along with creating rules. Fees for licenses would go into the General Revenue Fund at the end of each fiscal year.

Under the bill, those who are prescribed marijuana would be allowed to grow their own plants. Dispensaries would be located in each county.

People would not be permitted to drive under the influence or smoke marijuana in a public place.

Trump said the legislation would help people with chronic debilitating diseases.

“Who am I to say no for people who can achieve relief or peace with those conditions,” Trump said.

Sen. Ron Stollings, D- Boone, spoke in support, saying as a primary care physician, he has seen many patients who could benefit from medical marijuana.

“With pancreatic cancer, they have no appetite whatsoever and they can use marijuana to increase their appetite and improve their life,” he said.

Sen. Greg Boso, R-Nicholas, also spoke in favor of the bill, saying medical marijuana could especially help those with PTSD.

“These guys started looking at me and saying, ‘please help us.’ I want to help them,” he said.

He also related the story of a high school classmate whose baby suffered continuous seizures. At its birth, the physician said the baby would not live past his first birthday. He said Jordan is now 21 but has seizures continuously through the day and can only communicate emotionally.

“There’s not much else we can do for him besides make him comfortable and enjoy when he smiles,” Boso said. “She (the mother) said, ‘help us.’ Doctors told them to close their business and leave West Virginia to take care of him to get to a state to use medical marijuana to control seizure disorders.”

Lead sponsor Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, gave a passionate speech about why he decided to sponsor the legislation. He talked about his military service and held up 13 dog tags, telling stories of some of the people who died in combat.

“We can’t help them,” he later said. “They died in combat, but we can do something for others. For the first time in the state of West Virginia, we can help our veterans. We can help those by giving them the ability to have something that will get them through the times that whenever they close their eyes, they see the faces of the ones they served with who didn’t come home.”

After the vote, Sen. Ronald Miller, D-Greenbrier, said he doesn’t favor recreational marijuana but he voted for medical marijuana because he thinks it is another tool for helping people. He gave the example of a person in his district who has ALS, saying that person has contacted him to support this.

However, he said he didn’t know how much support the measure will have in the House.

“In the House, I’m not sure how it will go,” he said. “It will be hard to pass.”

Senators Sue Cline, R-Wyoming; Jeff Mullins, R- Raleigh and Kenny Mann, R- Monroe, all voted for the measure. None of the three was available for comment Wednesday evening.

Boso said after session that he was ecstatic at the bill’s passage.

“This is an opportunity to provide legally an opportunity for people to have relief from ailments and have their appetites restored if they’re going through chemo.”

Boso said the bill is personal to him because his mother died from cancer in 2001.

“I look at this as a what could have happened to improve her quality of life had medical marijuana been available to her,” he said.

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