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Committee OKs bill on cannabis

Dominion Post - 3/25/2017

March 25--CHARLESTON -- The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee narrowly approved a medical marijuana bill Friday morning.

SB 386 is the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act. Members passed it, 6-5, and sent it on to Judiciary.

The bill creates a Medical Cannabis Commission under the Department of Health and Human Resources. The commission would develop regulations and procedures for prescribing, growing, processing and dispensing the drug.

The commission would also develop ID cards for qualifying patients and the caregivers who assist with patient treatment.

Physicians would not be required to prescribe medical marijuana. Interested physicians would have to apply with a proposal including the patient's qualifying conditions, a promise to complete a medical evaluation and a treatment plan.

Qualifying conditions include hospice care, anorexia, severe nausea, seizures, severe or persistent muscle spasms and, through an amendment by Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Wayne and a physician and co-sponsor, generalized anxiety disorder.

Caregivers may serve no more than five patients and patients may have no more than two caregivers.

The commission will license growers, processors and dispensaries. Until June 1, 2019, no more than 15 growers will be licensed. After that, licenses will be issued to meet demand. A Stollings amendment requires at least 10 percent of growing licenses go to veterans involved in the Department of Agriculture veterans program.

Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, was able to insert an amendment to allow qualified patients to grow up to two plants of their own. He said this will help low-income patients who might not be able to afford premium-priced product.

An independent, public criminal justice laboratory will serve as the primary testing lab for all cannabis products. Physicians will report their prescriptions to the state Board of Pharmacy.

Criminal penalties accompany violations of the act.

Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall and a physician, was among the five who voted no. "This definitely does help patients with some certain diseases," he said. "I'm glad we're having this discussion."

But a program should start out very strict and go forward in baby steps. This one is too broad.

Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, also opposed it. He also acknowledged the benefits, but called the bill a Pandora's box. "I think we're running pell-mell into this."

Stollings spoke for it. "We have a massive problem with opiate addiction" and doctors' hands are tied by regulations. "This does give us another tool in the toolbox."

As was pointed out during the meeting, medical marijuana is legal in28 states and Washington, D.C., so there's plenty of data and examples out there showing this can work.

"I think it's time for us to be not the last implementer," he said.

The bill has bipartisan sponsorship, with three of12 sponsors Republicans. Locally, Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, is a co-sponsor.

The bill still has many hurdles to clear: Passage out of Judiciary and the full Senate -- by Wednesday, Crossover Day -- and then potentially two House committees and the full House, plus conference committee for any House changes the Senate doesn't agree to.


(c)2017 The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.)

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