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House hijacks drug bill to force discussion of medical marijuana


The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Supporters of legalizing medical marijuana in the West Virginia House of Delegates hijacked a routine drug bill Thursday, March 9 to force a discussion on the House floor.

House Bill 2526 would allow the state pharmacy board to add cannabidiol, a drug derived from marijuana but without marijuana’s intoxicating effects, to be added to the state’s drug schedule. According to the federal Food and Drug Administration, 13 states have recognized cannabidiol oil for medicinal use.

But because the bill dealt with classifications on the drug schedule, Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, offered an amendment to the bill that would have reclassified marijuana from a Schedule I drug — considered by the federal government to have no medicinal value — to a Schedule IV non-narcotic, which would theoretically allow doctors to prescribe marijuana just like other Schedule IV drugs.

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, has already offered a bill that would legalize and regulate medical marijuana. But that legislation, House Bill 2677, has been sent to three different committees and is not expected to reach the floor for a vote.

House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, has said he did not intend to advance any bills legalizing marijuana, in part over fears that the administration of President Donald Trump would crack down on states with medical or recreational marijuana laws. Marijuana remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government.

Amending the cannabidiol drug bill was a way to both force a discussion of medical marijuana on the House floor and apply pressure to bring House Bill 2677 out of committee, supporters of the amendment conceded.

Fluharty said the bill was introduced to help people for whom other treatment options don’t work, or to wean them off more addictive drugs like opioids. He said opioid deaths have declined an average of 25 percent in states that have passed medical marijuana bills.

There is some medical evidence to suggest marijuana can help with the treatment of PTSD, epilepsy and some other medical conditions, and can help restore appetite and ease the suffering for cancer treatment patients.

Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, said 28 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use. He said 66 percent of West Virginians want marijuana legalized for medical purposes.

Pushkin said West Virginia allowed doctors to prescribe marijuana from the 1930s into the 1970s, when the federal government classified it as a Schedule I drug.

Both Republicans and Democrats spoke in favor of the amendment, most saying legalizing the drug was necessary to ease the suffering of West Virginians.

But those who spoke against the amendment, like House Judiciary Chairman Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, said the amendment left too many unanswered questions about how marijuana would be regulated, prescribed and dispensed.

Still, Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said the amendment forced the discussion of legalizing marijuana out into the open. He said West Virginians expected their lawmakers to give serious consideration to legalizing the drug.

Fluharty’s amendment failed, with 35 delegates voting in favor of the amendment and 64 voting against.

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