A panel charged with helping shape the state’s new medical marijuana law met in Morgantown Thursday, Dec. 14. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ Medical Cannabis Advisory Board heard from guest speakers and announced the results of a recent survey.
One speaker was Pennsylvania state Senator Mike Folmer, who told the board about his state’s progress in bringing the drug to patients there. Folmer led efforts in Pennsylvania to pass a similar medical cannabis bill and identified himself as a “conservative Republican” and a cancer survivor.
The board also heard survey results from potential medical cannabis patients, physicians and others about various issues related to the implementation of the law.
The survey took a look at demographics of those who are interested in medical cannabis, as well as various medical ailments for which they may seek treatment. Of the 6,174 responses, 4,033 identified themselves as "a patient with a serious medical condition" and 1,813 said they had a family member with a serious medical condition. 364 respondents identified as a caregiver, while 611 specified their interest in medical cannabis as "other."
Officials said detailed results of the survey, which included respondents from all of West Virginia's 55 counties, will soon be available on the Office of Medical Cannabis’ website.
Under the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act passed during the 2017 legislative session, the DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health can’t issue patients and caregivers identification cards necessary to obtain medical cannabis until July 1, 2019.
Advisory board chairman and state health officer Dr. Rahul Gupta said those results and public comments are helping drive progress, even with so much time until the law allows patients to access the cannabis as treatment.
“We've had a lot of recommendations how there needs to be tweaks to this legislation,” Gupta said. “We're going through that process of understanding what those tweaks might look like and there may be some ideas that may we may push forward to have those tweaks.”
One ongoing discussion among guest speakers, public commenters and the board itself is whether to allow patients to consume “flowered” or plant-based versions of the drug. Current law prohibits cannabis in its natural, flower form. The advisory board could only make a recommendation to include that form in future, updated legislation.
“That's why this discussion is happening -- if the board recommends [this addition of natural, flowered cannabis being used in treatments], then it goes back to the Legislature. So, yes, that is very important and a very pivotal aspect,” Gupta said. “We are so happy that everybody is engaged in that and we're having a very deliberative process that is evidence-based and data-driven.”
Gupta also said the newly created Office of Medical Cannabis hopes to hire a director before the advisory board’s next meeting, which is scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 6, in Charleston.
A public comment period for proposed emergency rules to the legislation will end on Jan. 12, at midnight, just days after state lawmakers begin their annual 60-day regular session.
Gupta acknowledges that the coming session might affect the board’s course of action.
“We have a session that's upcoming and the Legislature could go back and decide to change things around a little bit. So, there's a level of uncertainty,” Gupta said. “But every day we are working on this. Not a single day goes by, since the passage of the bill, that we have not worked on moving this program forward.”