By DANYEL VANREENEN
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — After Gov. Jim Justice signed HB 386 into effect Wednesday, law enforcement and professionals in the Eastern Panhandle are preparing to implement and establish a new system for legalized medical marijuana in West Virginia.
Although the system for medical marijuana won’t be in place until 2018, Jefferson County Sheriff Pete Dougherty said local officials will be working to address the challenges associated with the new law to ensure the most benefits for patients.
Dougherty said he doesn’t have a problem with marijuana or medical legalization.
However, he is concerned the rate of impaired drivers will increase as more patients are prescribed medical marijuana.
“I don’t have a problem with the substance, but no one should drive a vehicle impaired,” Dougherty said. “Driving impaired on any substance is dangerous, even if it’s medically prescribed.”
Dougherty referenced Colorado’s experience with legalizing marijuana, and he said the numbers showed criminal activities like robberies and other violent crimes did not increase due to marijuana legalization, but impaired driving did increase.
Despite the difficulties, Dougherty said people do believe marijuana use can help people with cancer, and people also believe it can make pain associated with certain conditions less severe.
Dr. David Didden, Jefferson County Health Officer, said medical marijuana does have the potential to benefit some patients. However, he believes it will be a long process for the state and local officials to get the system and regulations right.
“We want to get the maximum benefit to people that need it and reduce its use among people who don’t need it,” Didden said.
Although Didden said marijuana does have medical benefits for certain conditions, he said if it is misused it has the potential to harm users, especially young children exposed to the drug.
“For young brains, there’s an increased risk,” Didden said. “Depending on the method of ingestion, the risk level changes as well. When you’re inhaling anything other than clean, fresh air it’s not great for your lungs.”
Dr. Rohit Gulati, vice president and chief medical officer at West Virginia University Healthcare, agreed that marijuana has increased for children at critical stages of their development. Questions of age limits for medical marijuana prescriptions, accurate labeling and training for physicians and doctors are all concerns Gulati has about the legalization of medical marijuana.
According to Gulati, there are legal implications and he is concerned about what the legalization may mean for doctors down the road. He said marijuana is federally illegal, but many states have now made it legal within state borders.
“What happens if a doctor prescribes medical marijuana for a patient that takes it into a state where it’s illegal?” Gulati said.
Creating a standard for accurate labeling and establishing standardized amounts of cannabanoids in the product are also hurdles for professionals.
However, despite the potential risks and challenges, Didden said the legalization of medical marijuana is a huge step for public health.
“I’m not opposed to the bill, but I want to make sure it’s done properly like everything else we try to do,” Dougherty said.
Gulati is focused on what the bill means for doctors and medical professionals in the future.
“Medical marijuana has side effects like any other drug, and it’s not a remedy for everything,” Gulati said. “It’s a brand new offering, and we need training for how to prescribe it.”
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