Lawmakers in the state of West Virginia will have two chances coming up to make medical cannabis legal for a number of patients who would benefit from it. The two bills are extremely similar, though one was introduced to the Senate and the other to the House. Senate Bill 386 was introduced a couple weeks ago by Senator Richard Ojeda, as well as 11 co-sponsors, and is called the Medical Cannabis Act – and this week House Bill 2677 was introduced by Delegate Mike Pushkin.
The first, Senate Bill 386, would create an entire cannabis commission that would oversee everything concerning the medical cannabis industry, including setting up a fund specifically for medical cannabis. The commission would be made up of a number of people including the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources, the commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, and 13 governor-appointed members.
Those governor-appointed members would include a member of the West Virginia association of Alcohol and Drug Counselors, two members of the public who support cannabis, three licensed physicians, a nurse practitioner, a scientist who studies medical cannabis, a representative of the state bar association, a member of law enforcement, a horticulturist and an attorney with experience in cannabis law. This would certainly ensure that every last detail could be covered when making decisions on how to run the medical marijuana program.
The senate bill is very similar to the house bill in the conditions that it would cover, although much more brief in the description including a chronic or debilitating medical condition that results in a patient being admitted to hospice or palliative care, or a chronic or debilitating disease or medical conditions (or the treatment of which) causes anorexia or wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain where standard medication is not effective, severe nausea, seizures or muscle spasms. This is a very general description of many diseases and medical conditions, without listing anything particularly specific.
House Bill 2677, on the other hand, would provide a rather loose list of medical conditions that would qualify for medical cannabis including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, PTSD, depression, anxiety, addiction to opiates and amphetamines, or a chronic or debilitating condition that causes (or the treatment causes) wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures or persistent muscle spasms as well as any other condition or treatment added by the department if the use of medical cannabis is a reasonable treatment for the symptoms presented.
The big difference between the two bills is the commission that would oversee medical cannabis in the proposed senate bill. Both will allow a patient to designate a caregiver who would be able to grow medical cannabis on their behalf, and both would allow for licensed dispensaries under regulations set up through legislature, as long as they abide by any tax or other regulations put into the law. Both bills are expected to be heard by committees in the coming weeks and if either were to make it to the governor’s desk then there is a chance medical cannabis could be a reality for patients in West Virginia by June of 2019 – though patients who appoint caregivers to grow it for them may have access even sooner than that.
If both bills were to pass, the similar structure would make it easy to combine the two bills – or perhaps the governor will choose only one to sign into law. It will be a while before we see just where this goes – but it seems that there is a good chance that very soon West Virginia could be one of the next on a growing list of states who have taken steps to legalize medical marijuana and make it available to patients who deserve a safer alternative to many potentially harmful pharmaceuticals, thanks to the efforts of these lawmakers.
The House bill has been referred to three committees, and the Senate one to two. No was would it get through all the committees by the end of the Session.
However, if they are dot defeated on the floor, as long as the sponsors are still in the Legislature, the bills will be re-introduced every year automatically until rejected or passed.