Senate Advances Medical Marijuana Bill

Mar 24, 2017

A Senate committee has advanced a bill to create a medical marijuana program in West Virginia, despite the committee chairman’s vote against it. 

The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee took up Senate Bill 386 Friday morning, the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act. 

Sen. Ron Stollings is a doctor in Boone County and supports the medical marijuana legislation.
Credit Will Price / West Virginia Legislative Photography

The bill would allow West Virginia doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for a list of diseases that are set out in the bill. It creates a system for growers to supply the drugs, doctors to apply to be able to prescribe it and gives oversight to a new commission within the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

It does not, however, remove marijuana from the list of schedule one drugs at the state level. That puts it in a classification with drugs like heroin or cocaine and makes it illegal to sell and distribute.

However, 28 state and the District of Columbia have created medical marijuana programs. 

“If doctors are given the opportunity to prescribe medicinal marijuana to help patients suffering from many different illness, then why not?" lead sponsor of the bill Sen. Richard Ojeda said Friday.

"Marijuana has never ripped apart a community, but opioids do. OxyContin does every day, but OxyContin is legal to be prescribed.”

Members of the committee amended the bill Friday, requiring that the state Board of Pharmacy receive an annual report about the program, that 10 percent of the licensed growers be veterans, and that 10 percent of the funds made off of the registration fees for growers and doctors be dedicated to education and addiction recovery efforts.

Sen. Robert Karnes also attempted to amend the bill to allow any person with a legal prescription to grow two marijuana plants for their own personal use. 

Sen. Robert Karnes during the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources.
Credit Will Price / West Virginia Legislative Photography

“Saying something like that, okay we’re going to give you permission to grow two plants, it requires oversight of that person," bill sponsor Sen. Patricia Rucker said in committee. "It requires understanding what they’re doing in their home and we were being very careful to not create a problem for law enforcement.”

“I’m trying to make sure that we’re not just setting up essentially a group of legal drug dealers who can make an enormous sum of money off of people who may actually receive a benefit from this,” Karnes said.

Karnes’s amendment was adopted by the committee, but put to a final vote, Republican Sen. Mike Maroney, who’s also a physician, spoke against the amended bill.

“I personally can’t support the bill as written, although I support the concept to a certain extent," he said. "I think it’s very broad and I think if you’re going to start something like this you need to be very much less broad initially.”

Maroney said he would support a medical marijuana program in the state and sees the benefits for West Virginia patients, but he wants a more strictly defined program.

“We have a massive problem with opiate addiction," Stollings said. "The physicians' hands are being tied by various regulations and I think this does give us another tool in the toolbox.”

On a voice vote in committee the bill seemed to fail, but when Senators were asked to raise their hands to signify their vote, it was approved.

Both the committee’s chair, Tom Takubo who’s also a physician, and vice chair Maroney, voted against it.

The bill now goes to the Senate’s Judiciary Committee for further consideration.