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WV House passes medical marijuana bill


The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After a parliamentary and regulatory roller coaster ride, the West Virginia House of Delegates approved its version of a bill that would establish standards and practices for the medical marijuana industry in West Virginia on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 386, the West Virginia Cannabis Act, was approved by the House on Tuesday afternoon by a margin of 74-26. The bill will advance to the Senate for consideration.

West Virginia senators will have to decide to what degree they will compromise to establish a medical marijuana industry in the Mountain State after House members made far-reaching changes to the bill that now will have to be reconsidered and approved by the Senate before it can advance to Gov. Jim Justice for his deliberation.

 The group of delegates representing Cabell and Wayne counties approved the measure 5-3 earlier Tuesday afternoon.

Those supporting SB 386 were Dels. Ken Hicks, D-Wayne; Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell; Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell; Carol Miller, R-Cabell; and Robert Thompson, D-Wayne.

Those voting against the bill were Dels. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell; Chuck Romine, R-Cabell; and Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell.

On Tuesday, delegates debated SB 386 for about 47 minutes before approving it.

Those in favor of the bill said it was a good first step to establishing a medical marijuana industry in the state, which would offer a measure of relief for people suffering from certain conditions and illnesses.

Those who spoke in opposition of the bill said it was a departure from federal law and argued the medical merits of marijuana were unproven.

House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, built on a point made by Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, that marijuana already exists in the state, just not legally.

“What’s not here, what hasn’t been available is a protection for our physicians to use it as a tool to treat those who need help,” Shott said. “Isn’t that what we really want? Don’t we want our treating physicians to use any tool that’s available to assist in relieving the pain of their patients? That’s really what we’re doing today if we pass this bill. We’ve established a structure that will guarantee that medication is standardized and regulated and predictable in its dosage. It is like any other medicine.”

As it was approved by the House, SB 386 posts the Legislature as the rule-making and oversight body for the medical marijuana industry and the West Virginia Bureau of Health would be responsible for overseeing certification, permitting and licensure within the industry.

The bill sets tight parameters as to how marijuana could be consumed, including pills, oil, topical treatments and mists. The bill also limits the number of medical marijuana growers and dispensaries in the state.

Amendments made to the bill late Monday night doubled the amount of growers and dispensaries originally allocated in the bill, with up to 10 growers in the state and 30 dispensaries being allowed in the bill’s final language.

In its current form, the bill does not allow for any person, regardless of certification or prescription, to grow marijuana for personal use.

The bill would require certifications and permits for physicians, growers and dispensaries. The bill also established a process by which people who are prescribed medical marijuana would be issued a certificate, which they would use to obtain a license to get their prescription. The license would cost $50 and have to be renewed annually.

Shott said he also intentionally crafted significant fees for opening a dispensary or begin a medical marijuana growing operation to keep any “fly-by-night people” from getting into the industry, but those amounts were cut in half by amendments approved by the House late Monday night.

To have a growing operation, interested parties would have to pay a $5,000 application fee and a $50,000 permit fee. Those operating dispensaries would have to pay $5,000 each year to renew their permits.

Those who want to have a dispensary would have to pay a $2,500 application fee, a $10,000 permit fee and $2,500 annually to renew their permits.

The bill also was amended Monday night to provide for reciprocity agreements between West Virginia and its medical marijuana border states. Only terminally ill cancer patients would be able to take advantage of the reciprocity agreement.

The House also approved an amendment Monday night to clearly state a requirement for child-proof packaging.

When it passed the Senate on March 29, SB 386 was more open-ended.

It would have established a state cannabis commission to establish industry standards for growing, processing and prescribing medical marijuana. The Senate version of the bill gave the commission more discretion to establish standards than the House version of the bill, which has the Legislature establishing those standards.

In the Senate’s version, the commission also would have had the authority to establish means to issue identification cards to patients and caregivers and consider the drug’s use for chronic or debilitating diseases or conditions.

All versions of the bill so far have established related criminal law for people who have or use medical marijuana without valid certifications or prescriptions to do so.

During the Senate’s evening session, Del. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, a co-sponsor and co-author of the Senate’s version of the bill, told senators he was in support of the House’s version of the bill.

“I think the House has done a good job of eliminating some potential for misuse of the bill,” Woelfel said. “They tightened the bill up. It seems to me you’re going to see a much better bill as it comes back.”

The House’s version of the bill was passed following a sometimes contentious journey through the House, starting last Thursday, March 30.

Rumors spread Thursday that SB 386 was going to be stopped by having Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, not receive the report that the bill had passed the Senate. There also were concerns the bill would be killed by other means in the committee process.

Following an onslaught of emails and calls from constituents and about an hour of debate, House members voted Thursday to have SB 386 skip the committee process, allowing it to advance to the full House.

On Friday, House members approved a motion by Shott to delay considering the bill until Monday to give delegates time to read the bill and craft amendments to it.

On Monday, Shott said it hadn’t been his intention to kill the bill, but he did want to slow it down.

House members chose Shott’s overhaul of the bill over a proposal from Pushkin following three hours of debate Monday. They approved Shott’s version in a 51-48 margin. With the approval of Shott’s amendment, Pushkin’s amendment wasn’t brought up for a vote.

Compared to the final bill that has passed, Pushkin’s amendment relied more on the establishment of the West Virginia Cannabis Commission, which would have made regulatory recommendations to be approved by the Legislature. It also allowed more flexibility in consumption, homegrown plants and the establishment of permitting and licensing fees.

On Tuesday, Pushkin said he was supportive of the bill that relied heavily on Shott’s interpretation.

“As lead sponsor of the competing strike-and-insert (amendment), I will say I felt, and a lot of us felt, it should have gone further,” Pushkin said. “There were a lot of us that felt this might not do enough. I will say, as lead sponsor, I support this bill in its current form because it is a step in the right direction. I can wholeheartedly support this bill.”

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