Marijuana is grown at Surterra Therapeutics' 6,000-square-foot indoor facility, on the outskirts of Tallahassee, Fla., in June 2016. (Joe Rondone, Tallahassee Democrat via AP)

West Virginia medical marijuana bill gets House OK; here’s what’s ahead

A provision to allow patients to grow marijuana is among the issues that need to be reconciled before the legislation can be advanced to Gov. Jim Justice

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s House voted Tuesday to legalize doctor-prescribed marijuana to treat certain medical conditions following Senate passage of a similar measure last week.

The bills approved 76-24 by the House and 28-6 by the Senate need to be reconciled before advancing to Gov. Jim Justice to sign or veto.

The House bill would establish a Bureau of Public Health program with identification cards for patients and authorize the drug’s use for patients who are terminally ill or have severe or chronic intractable pain, cancer, seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder, AIDS and some other diseases. Patient identification cards could be issued starting July 1, 2019.

“I think we all know someone who has benefited from some application of marijuana or certainly could benefit based on the research that’s available today,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, a Bluefield Republican. “We have adequate protections and adequate flexibility in the bill to allow us to adapt to changing medical science or any problems that might be presented.”

Delegate Tom Fast, a Fayetteville Republican who voted against it, said legislators were following 28 states permitting medical marijuana contrary to federal law. “We have a federal law West Virginia has submitted to in the past. We are under that jurisdiction. … It has worked well in the past. They monitor, they go through trials and then if the drug is sufficient, safe, they will approve it, and the people can use it through a valid prescription.”

Delegate Mike Pushkin, a Charleston Democrat who sponsored the amendment to let patients grow plants, said other states that legalized marijuana haven’t reversed because the results have been positive.

“I can tell you with great certainty that this bill is not bringing cannabis to West Virginia because it’s been here longer than any of us has been here,” Pushkin said. “What we’re doing is bringing some of it out of the shadows. The most important thing is we’re allowing some people to alleviate their suffering.”

The measure protects doctors to use medical marijuana as a tool for those who need it, Shott said.

It would license plant growers, processors and dispensaries for cannabis in pills, oils, topical gels, liquids and a form that can be vaporized. It wouldn’t authorize dispensing dry leaves or smoking.

House members on Monday night after heated debate narrowly rejected an amendment to let patients with prescriptions grow their own plants.

The Senate bill would allow patients to grow two plants and it would establish a new commission to regulate medical marijuana use and licensing.

The governor’s office is watching the bill closely, spokesman Grant Herring said. “The governor has said all along he believes in compassion for the terminally ill and is open to medical marijuana,” he said.