The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 8, 2014

Committee won’t recommend bill on medical marijuana

By Pamela Pritt
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — The Joint Committee on Health will not recommend a bill to legalize medical marijuana, but will offer legislation that outlines Good Samaritan policies which will provide amnesty for those seeking medical care in cases of drug overdose.

Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, who sits on the committee, said he’s in favor of the bill because it allows people to admit they have an addiction problem and seek help.

“It has merit,” Moore said. “Addiction is frowned on by society. If we take the stigma away from that, (people) can report themselves.

“If you have an addiction, we shouldn’t be mad at you and put you in jail,” he continued. “We need to help you be all you can be for the State of West Virginia.”

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Without responding directly to the health committee’s rejection, medical marijuana proponent Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, said he has revised the bill he introduced last year and hopes to get it on the legislative agenda this year.

Manypenny said he’s garnered support from some surprising corners like law enforcement and clergy.

“I’ve had more than one sheriff say, ‘We see the pill problem; the people who use marijuana don’t seem to be a problem in our county,’” Manypenny said. “We’re wasting resources on marijuana when the problem is pills.”

Still, the delegate knows the bill will face opposition, including from representatives of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA), who maintain that marijuana is a dangerous drug.

Manypenny said there’s no evidence anybody ever overdosed or died from marijuana use, in comparison to the high rate of deaths from prescription opiates.

And in regard to those types of drugs, Manypenny agrees with Moore.

“We need to refocus energy away from making prescription drug abuse a criminal offense and give people rehabilitation,” he said. “Marijuana can be a tool to fight other substance abuse problems.

Manypenny said taxes from medical marijuana could be used to help treat people with substance abuse problems and to promote drug prevention programs in schools.

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Looking further at the proposed Good Samaritan bill will also enable others to seek potentially life-saving medical assistance for someone who is experiencing a drug overdose. It will allow State Police, police, sheriffs and fire and emergency service personnel to carry Naloxone or other opiod antagonists to administer to victims of drug overdose.

While the bill allows those first responders to carry the drug, it also grants immunity to them when they either administer or do not choose to administer Naloxone in cases of drug overdose.

The bill establishes a training program for those personnel, and establishes criteria for the drug’s use.

Training will include the causes of opiate overdose, how to recognize the symptoms of an overdose and how to administer Naloxone.

The bill allows for licensed health care providers who prescribe opiods may also prescribe Naloxone.

— E-mail: ppritt@register-herald.com