Pubdate: Wed, 20 Nov 2013
Source: Charleston Daily Mail (WV)
Copyright: 2013 Charleston Daily Mail
Author: Dave Boucher


CHARLESTON, W.Va.--Lawmakers received a draft of a bill Wednesday 
that, if passed, would legalize the use of medical marijuana in West Virginia.

Nearly identical bills were introduced in the House the previous two 
legislative sessions, but died in committee.

That will have to change this time around for there to be any 
discussions in the state Senate, said Senate Health Committee 
Chairman Ron Stollings, D-Boone.

"Unless it comes out of the House, I can't really imagine us handling 
it De novo (anew) on the Senate side," Stollings said.

Stollings, a physician, said there are definite medicinal uses for 
marijuana. The logistics and liability associated with safely getting 
the marijuana to a patient is the issue, he said.

Although 20 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for 
medicinal purposes, the federal government still classifies it as an 
illegal drug with no medicinal properties. U.S. Attorney General Eric 
Holder has said the federal Department of Justice won't pursue 
smalltime marijuana prosecutions.

But that could change under a different administration, Stollings said.

If it does change, it could mean the doctor who prescribed or 
recommended a patient use marijuana could also be liable for some 
sort of damages, he said.

The same issue came up in a brief discussion of the draft legislation 
presented to a House and Senate joint health committee Wednesday.

House health committee attorney Charles Roskevensky presented the 
measure, describing it as a "very rough draft" for a potential bill 
that could be introduced in the 2014 session.

The measure outlines the amount of marijuana patients or caregivers 
could have at one time, how they can sell or buy the product, 
requirements needed to qualify for medicinal marijuana and more.

Qualified patients could possess a maximum of six ounces of usable 
marijuana. They could also have 12 mature marijuana plants and twelve 
seedlings, if they do not have a caregiver that grows their marijuana.

Caregivers would also be limited to the same amounts for each of 
their qualified patients.

Patients can buy marijuana from a licensed caregiver or "compassion 
center," essentially a marijuana pharmacy, only after receiving 
permission from a doctor with whom they have a "bona fide 
doctor-patient relationship," the bill states.

The bill allows for five compassion centers in the first year of the 
law, six in the second and more if deemed necessary in other years, 
Roskovensky said.

The patients must suffer from a "debilitating medical condition" like 
cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder and other 
conditions. After a doctor agrees they could benefit from the use of 
marijuana, they must register with the Department of Health and Human 
Resources and receive a card saying they can legally use marijuana.

A section of the bill also outlines legal protections for those who 
prescribe or recommend using marijuana, patients, caregivers and others.

The Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy agency that presented 
information to lawmakers n September, stated in a report many states 
with legal medical marijuana have laws that protect physicians who 
make recommendations to use the drug.

The bill is intentionally large, including all sorts of possibilities 
for how legislators could shape the law, Roskovensky said in response 
to lawmakers' questions. Committee members should read through the 
bill and bring comments and concerns to future committee meetings, he said.

Many bills go through such a process. But Delegate Mike Manypenny, a 
Taylor County Democrat who introduced the previous bills and plans to 
do so again this year, said early attention is key to any bill's success.

"This is the first time we've had input from lawmakers on the 
legislation on an official basis," said Manypenny, who attended the 
meeting but is not on the committee.

He acknowledged Stollings' concern about liability for doctors, but 
thought a recommendation from a doctor instead of a prescription 
limited that liability.

This is the second time in three months lawmakers have received 
information about medical marijuana. A September presentation 
included data about how the legalization and regulation processes 
work in other states. The presenters from the Marijuana Policy 
Project and the National Conference of State Legislatures also 
provided logistical details for regulating the legal product, many of 
which appear in the draft bill.

House Health Committee Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, said he's heard 
similar concerns about the federal ramifications, as well as 
suggestions at the other end of the spectrum.

Decriminalizing marijuana in general would be far less bureaucratic 
for the state -- as Stollings also pointed out -- but still presents 
potential problems at the federal level, Perdue said.

Neither chairman wants to call a vote on a bill up in committee 
unless there's a good chance it will pass, Perdue said. He therefore 
won't commit to bringing up a medical marijuana bill in his committee 
until he's heard more feedback from other delegates.

Manypenny is confident the feedback could lead to a measure that has 
more support than in previous years. He's optimistic the measure 
could pass a committee and make it to the House floor this year, with 
an actual law passing by the end of the 2015 session.

The 2014 session starts Jan. 8.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom