By LACIE PIERSON
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Less than 24 hours after a medical marijuana measure cleared the West Virginia Senate, it was put on the fast track in the House of Delegates, ending a day filled with pressure from constituents for House members.
Senate Bill 386 is the West Virginia Cannabis Act, which establishes the framework for the medical cannabis industry in the Mountain State as it relates to growing, prescribing and distributing marijuana for medical use.
The bill passed the Senate in a 28-6 vote Wednesday, but it was unclear Thursday whether the bill would gain traction in the House, which had shot down a measure that would’ve made marijuana accessible through prescriptions earlier in the session.
When SB 386 was reported in the House on Thursday evening, Del. Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, made a motion to let the bill skip consideration by House committees after Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, had referred the bill to the House’s Health and Judiciary committees.
After about 50 minutes of debate, delegates voted in a margin of 54-40 to let the bill be considered by the whole legislative body instead of having it vetted ahead of time by the committees. The bill was vetted by the Health and Judiciary committees in the Senate.
The bill will be on second reading and eligible for amendments Friday, but House members also can vote to delay amending the bill to give them more time to read it before amending it.
Supporters of Folk’s motion said the double-committee reference was a death sentence this late in the legislative session and that several other medical marijuana measures proposed in the House were referred to committees never to be seen again because majority leadership in the House didn’t support medical marijuana.
Those who argued against Folk’s motion said considering the bill without committee vetting was a reckless move that might prevent the framework for medical marijuana from being implemented in a responsible manner.
Delegates from Cabell and Wayne counties voted 3-3 on the measure, with two delegates, Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, and Ken Hicks, D-Wayne, not present for the vote.
Otherwise, the local delegation voted along party lines, with Dels. Kelli Sobonya, Carol Miller and Chuck Romine, all Cabell County Republicans, voting to send the bill to committees. Dels. Sean Hornbuckle and Chad Lovejoy, both D-Cabell, and Del. Robert Thompson, D-Wayne, voted to bring the bill to the immediate consideration of the full House.
The evening debate and vote brought an action-filled end to a day of rumors and pressure on House members about the bill’s fate.
Social media posts from members of the media and at least one legislator suggested that SB 386 was sitting in a pile of bills that had been passed in the Senate, but not reported to the House.
The collective inference from those posts was that House leadership was preparing to take steps to kill the bill that had passed in the Senate the evening before.
Members of the House of Delegates were flooded with calls about the bill, which was a catalyst for Thursday evening’s debate.
Senate Bill 386 largely is based on the framework for the medical marijuana industry set forth by the Maryland General Assembly, Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, said during the Senate’s debate about the bill Wednesday.
If signed into law, the bill would establish a state commission to issue identification cards to patients and caregivers and consider the drug’s use for chronic or debilitating diseases or conditions including severe or chronic pain, seizures, anorexia, anxiety disorder, nausea and post-traumatic stress disorder.
It would also license plant growers, processors and dispensaries for products containing cannabis, including food, tinctures, aerosols, oils or ointments.
The bill also includes a measure that would allow people with prescriptions to grow up to two plants of their own.
It also establishes misdemeanor crimes for people who would have medical marijuana without a valid prescription.
In its current form, the bill requires the state medical marijuana commission to file its first report in September 2018, and use of medical marijuana wouldn’t be in practice until the committee’s rules were in state code.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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