By ANDREA LANNOM
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — By a 76-24 vote, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill Tuesday that would legalize medical marijuana.
The approved bill is an amended version of Senate Bill 386, the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act. It was sent back to the Senate to determine if members there concur with changes made in the House. However no action was taken Tuesday. It’s expected to be taken up in Wednesday’s session.
Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, urged concurrence by his colleagues.
“It tightened the bill up and it seems to me we are seeing a much better bill as it comes up,” Woelfel said.
If the Senate concurs, it then heads to the governor.
Once people get a certificate from the Bureau for Public Health and an ID card, they could then go to a dispensary and have a product filled for a 30-day supply.
The amended bill would allow 30 dispensaries and 10 growers. There would be a $5,000 initial fee for growers, a $50,000 fee for growers and processors and a $5,000 renewal fee. The bill also charges a $10,000 fee for dispensaries for each location and a $2,500 renewal fee.
Shott explained this money would go into the bureau to operate the program, the Department of Juvenile Correctional Services, to the police academy for training law enforcement, and to the governor’s Fight Substance Abuse fund.
Prior to the vote, Shott attempted to alleviate the fears of some delegates who feared the amended bill would be cost prohibitive to patients. The bill includes some protection, he explained. The Bureau for Public Health and the Department of Revenue would monitor the price at the grower, processor and dispenser levels, including the per dose price.
“If they determine the prices are unreasonable or excessive, they can implement a cap on those prices… ,” Shott said. “This is an issue going forward because these products are not covered by Medicare or Medicaid.”
Shott said DUI laws are unchanged by this bill, so if someone consumes marijuana in some form and it impairs the ability to drive, the person would still be charged.
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D- Kanawha, also spoke in favor of the bill and commended Shott on his efforts to crafting the amendment and looking into state laws. He said the bill is a step in the right direction.
“We have not seen a state go back,” Pushkin said. “We’ve not heard that any of the states felt like they needed to put the toothpaste back in the tube. … The sky didn’t fall. … It is a step in the right direction and I wholeheartedly support this bill. … This will allow people to get treatment instead of treating them like criminals.”
Those who voted against the bill expressed concerns about contamination and not waiting on the FDA and DEA to decide first and for West Virginia to follow its lead.
Lawmakers who supported the bill said the legislation would allow people to get help for severe chronic issues.
Speaking before the vote, Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, said it hasn’t been proven to him that medical marijuana would alleviate any medical problems. He said it may diminish symptoms, but there are other medicines that can do that as well.
In his view, he said, West Virginia is taking a step toward full legalization and he is concerned about safety on the roads and on the job.
“What we are doing with this bill, my friends, is making another drug legal so we don’t have to deal with the effects. In 20 years from now, we’ll be looked at as the Legislature that legalized something we shouldn’t have done. I don’t want to be part of that.”
Also speaking against the bill before the vote, Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, said he believes West Virginia should wait for the FDA and the DEA to decide.
“We are just going to join 28 other states and say we’re not going to obey the law,” he said.
Delegate Charlotte Lane, R-Kanawha, disagreed, saying in her view, the federal government may learn something from the states that have legalized medical marijuana.
“This is a good piece of legislation,” she said. “People may not be 100 percent happy with it, but it’s a lot further than we thought we would ever get in this session. … Why not give this piece of legislation a chance and hope the federal government will follow our lead?”
Shott said the bill adds some protection to physicians.
“Don’t we want trained physicians to be able to use any tool available to assist and relieve the pain of their patients? That’s what we’ve done here today if we vote yes.”
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