by Ron Gregory
CHARLESTON — Despite an amendment that many said would never be acceptable to supporters of medical marijuana in the state, the House of Delegates approved the measure Tuesday afternoon. The approval, which came on a 76-24 vote, will send the revised version along to the State Senate.
The bill, identified as Senate Bill 386, was heavily changed Monday when an amendment by Judiciary Chairman John Shott was approved, 51-48. Several legislators and observers who had originally favored the bill, as passed by the Senate, initially indicated the legislature’s upper body would not accept the changes. But that attitude appeared to soften overnight, with many supporters — including the chief architect of the legislation — saying they could “work with” the alterations.
State Senator Richard Ojeda of Logan, who has been seen sporting a marijuana lapel pin, introduced the bill to the Senate. He told the media Tuesday he is not happy with changes made, but will support the new legislation.
The original bill would have set up a West Virginia Cannabis Commission to oversee medical marijuana. As amended by Shott, responsibility for regulation goes to the Bureau for Public Health, a unit of the state Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR).
Full implementation of the program not come until July 1, 2019, with many legislators saying that provides sufficient time to “tweak” it.
Another change, loudly opposed by Kanawha Delegate Mike Pushkin, a proponent of the original legislation, prohibits smoking and bans people from growing their own personal plants. A $100,000 annual fee for growers and processors was thought to be a nod to “big pharma.” Opponents of the fee, which has now been reduced to $50,000, said only major pharmaceutical companies would be able to afford the start-up costs of the program. In addition, plants must be grown inside rather than outside.
“It really is a good first step,” Pushkin said. “We can fix it later.”
Former legislator Mike Moneypenny, a strong advocate for medical marijuana, said Tuesday he does not support the revised legislation. “(It) opens it up for big pharma and corporate elite or just those already rich to run the industries,” he said.
With just four days remaining in this year’s regular session, the House communicated its passage of the revised bill to the Senate today.