The West Virginia Senate’s Health and Human Resources Committee narrowly passed a bill Friday morning that would allow certain patients to be prescribed marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The bill (SB386), called the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee. If it passes there, it would also have to pass a full vote in the state Senate and then in the House of Delegates.
Several amendments were passed Friday before it was ultimately approved on a 6-5 vote.
Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone and a doctor, offered amendments related to monitoring by the state Board of Pharmacy, allocating 10 percent of contracting proceeds to drug prevention and rehabilitation, and specifying that if enough veterans are interested, at least 10 percent of contracts be given to veterans participating in a state agriculture program.
An amendment from Senator Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, which would allow people with prescriptions to grow two marijuana plants, also was adopted.
“We’re talking about a weed here that anybody could grow,” he said, adding that he didn’t want to establish a group of “legal drug dealers.”
Senators Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, and Mike Azinger, R-Wood, spoke against the bill. Azinger said that marijuana “destroys the mind” and “destroys life” and Maroney said the bill was too “broad.”
Stollings said “I think it’s time for us not to be the last implementer but to go ahead and move this forward and I urge passage of the bill.”
Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, the bill’s lead sponsor, has said he does not believe House leaders support the bill. House spokesman Jared Hunt said earlier this week that House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, wouldn’t have time to speak that day about medical marijuana. Friday, in an email, Hunt noted that “the House did have a lengthy debate and vote on an amendment related to the matter earlier this year which was defeated by a roughly two-thirds majority, signaling there isn’t strong support on this subject.
“That being said, if the Senate were to approve and send the bill over, the Speaker would — as he does with all legislation — discuss the matter with his leadership team and gauge interest from the caucus before deciding a course of action,” he said.
Ojeda, a 24-year Army veteran, said he wants veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – his “brothers and sisters” — to have access to the drug. He said he also worries about the thousands of people in West Virginia who could find relief through access to the drug.
“We shouldn’t have them have to continue suffering because of any issues concerning leadership,” Ojeda said.
He said he believes the bill has plenty of support, although some lawmakers didn’t want their names attached.
“Marijuana has not destroyed communities and it hasn’t killed people,” he said. “Big Pharma doesn’t have their hooks on medical marijuana. What they have their hooks on is the opioids. Therefore they have to do everything in their power to make sure medical marijuana stays illegal.”
Ojeda also questioned legislative priorities. “We are going to deny thousands upon thousands of people relief but we can now hunt a wounded bear with a collared dog,” he said. “You can now play Keno at the gas stations, which means what normally took you a long time — to get through the 7-Eleven — will take even longer.”
“Everybody wants to cry about a light. Give me a break,” he said, referring to Gov. Jim Justice’s decision to light the Capitol dome, a move that usually signals a state of the emergency.
“We are a state that is absolutely broke,” he said. “Coal is coming back, but it ain’t coming back the way we want it to come back and it ain’t going to be here forever.”
The bill, which has Democratic and Republican co-sponsors, would create a West Virginia Medical Cannabis Commission and a special revenue fund. The commission would license no more than 15 growers and issue patient and caregiver identification cards, among other responsibilities.
The commission’s purpose “is to develop policies, procedures, guidelines, and regulations to implement programs to make medical cannabis available to qualifying patients in a safe and effective manner,” the bill states.
Qualifying conditions include “a chronic or debilitating condition that results in a patient being admitted into hospice or receiving palliative care,” or chronic or debilitating diseases or conditions that produce: cachexia, anorexia or wasting syndrome; severe or chronic pain that does not find relief through standard pain medications; severe nausea; seizures; and severe or persistent muscle spasms. Refractory anxiety was also added during the committee meeting.
The bill also says that a “public criminal justice agency” would be the primary testing laboratory, and sets requirements for becoming a prescribing physician.
Legislative staff said they could not provide a tally of senators’ votes. Two senators representing Kanawha County, Tom Takubo, a Republican and the committee chair, and Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, were on the committee. Takubo voted against it and Palumbo voted for it.