A bill to legalize medical marijuana will be put to a vote in the House of Delegates Tuesday. Over the weekend, a handful of delegates from both sides of the aisle met with attorneys to discuss potential amendments to the Senate bill that were discussed in a late night floor session Monday. The bill has now taken a much different form than when it was approved in the state Senate just last week.
After a procedural move last week that brought Senate Bill 386, or the Medical Cannabis Act, immediately to the House floor, bypassing the committee process, House leadership acted quickly, delaying further consideration of the bill to allow it to be studied by members and staff over the weekend.
As approved in the Senate, the bill would create a 17-member commission in the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. That commission would oversee the program, creating rules for doctors, patients, growers and dispensers that would then be approved by the Legislature.
A doctor could prescribe marijuana for certain illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, or seizures. Patients with a prescription would also be able to grow up to two plants for personal use. The program would not begin until July 2018.
A handful of delegates, including Judiciary Chair John Shott, met Sunday to discuss some changes they’d like to see to the legislation. From that meeting, two committee substitutes were drafted both of which were taken up by the House Monday night. One was sponsored by Chairman Shott, the second by a bi-partisan group of delegates that include Jordan Hill, a Republican from Nicholas County.
“There was a bi-partisan group that were in favor of the motion the other day," Hill said, "We had all, you know, gotten together, came up with an amendment on this.”
Hill’s version would have changed the title to “The Patient Freedom Act.” It called for the commission to be independent but still under the DHHR, and would implement a 6 percent sales and a 6 percent excise tax on marijuana. But that version was never taken up Monday evening after delegates voted 51 to 48 to adopt Shott’s version of the bill.
The Judiciary chairman’s version only includes the 6 percent excise tax and keeps the original title “The Medical Cannabis Act.” His bill puts the control of medical marijuana under the Department of Public Health and pushes the rollout date back one year to July 2019.
Shott’s version would not allow the product to be smoked or eaten – only allowing an oil, pill, or patch version of marijuana to be prescribed. However, the oil could be incorporated into a baked good, Shott says, but only if that baked good is made by the patient.
Shott says the bi-partisan group of lawmakers created an amended bill that was still too broad and he’s pushing his fellow lawmakers to back a more cautious approach to a medical marijuana program.
“We modeled our bill after the most recent states, which were Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota, and New York," Shott noted, "This is basically a very cautious approach that each of them have taken after studying what has happened in other states. You know, I think we need to help some of these folks that don’t get relief from other conventional ways.”
Delegate Mike Pushkin, a Democrat from Kanawha County and one of the sponsors of the committee substitute supported by Delegate Hill, argued on the floor Monday night that Shott’s amendment is too restrictive and doesn’t do enough to help the West Virginians struggling with serious diseases that could be helped through access to the drug.
“Anybody else’s phone ringing off the hook today? They want us to vote for this bill, but they want the bill to actually do something; they want a medical cannabis bill. The first amendment doesn’t really do that. It’s not even a toe in the water,” Pushkin said.
Most of the other amendments to the bill adopted Monday night were technical in nature, fixing grammatical errors or incorrect references.
The chamber voted to allow a terminally ill cancer patient who has a valid prescription to cross state lines and bring back a medical marijuana product consistent with West Virginia’s program. Another requires the containers holding marijuana products to be child proof.
The amended version of the bill will be up for a final vote in the chamber Tuesday. It will have to return to the Senate before it can be considered by the governor.