The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

January 24, 2014

Medical marijuana legislation introduced

CHARLESTON — With the legalization of recreational marijuana in other states amounting to millions in tax revenues, West Virginia’s bill that proposes to make the plant legal for medical use is modest by comparison. But Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, has some personal reasons for supporting the bill.

Moore’s oldest sister died of lupus, an autoimmune disease that can damage skin, joints and internal organs. The disease can range from mild to life-threatening, and affects as many as 1.5 million Americans, according to the Lupus Foundation’s website.

Moore said his sister’s life could have been easier if she’d been able to use medical marijuana.

“Life would have been a lot less painful for her,” Moore said. “I’m assuming other West Virginians have similar circumstances.”

Moore said medical marijuana could ease the symptoms of several illnesses. Moore said using medical marijuana for pain could allow people to be able to work, mingle in society and do everyday chores like grocery shopping.

“It’s time we had it; it’s as simple as that,” he said. “If we are doing this with our hearts and not with our heads, I don’t expect any pushback.”

The lead sponsor of the bill, Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, a self-proclaimed eternal optimist, said he doesn’t expect the bill to pass this year, the fourth year he’s presented it. Manypenny said it’s unlikely the bill will pass in an election year, but he believes the legalization of medical marijuana has support from state residents.

A recent poll backs up Manypenny’s hypothesis.

The December 2013 survey says 56 percent of state voters support changing the law to allow patients to use doctor-recommended marijuana. While 34 percent said they were opposed to the change, that number decreased from 40 percent last January. The survey was conducted by Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina firm.

“I keep trying,” Manypenny said. “It’s important for people across the state who are suffering from cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s chronic pain; a dozen different diseases can be treated with medical marijuana,” he said.

“There is no longer any doubt that medical marijuana is an effective treatment for a number of debilitating medical conditions and symptoms,” said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, who is a West Virginia native and graduate of West Virginia University.

“No one deserves to be treated like a criminal for using marijuana to treat a serious medical condition.”

The bill decriminalizes possession of marijuana for people who have been diagnosed by their doctors as having a debilitating disease, but limits that possession to 6 ounces of usable marijuana, 12 mature marijuana plants and 12 seedlings.

In addition, the bill allows registered nonprofit compassion centers — dispensaries — which would be able to grow, deliver and sell marijuana.

Manypenny said those centers would have to have detailed business plans that include security and background checks for everyone associated with the facility. No one who has been convicted of a drug-related felony would be permitted any association with a compassion center, the proposed bill says.

The delegate said directors and other employees of compassion centers could set decent salaries, but Manypenny said the idea is not for medical marijuana to be a get-rich-quick plan.

“We don’t want to create cartels,” he said. “It would be a long and regulated process.”

Moore said he does not support the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, and when consumed, has relaxing and mildly euphoric effects on the user. The drug’s side effects include short-term memory loss, dry mouth, impaired motor skills and red eyes, as well as increased appetite, lowered blood pressure and impaired coordination and concentration. No fatal overdoses of marijuana have been recorded as of 2010.

Creating the Compassionate Use Act for Medical Cannabis is referenced to the House committee on Health and Human Resources.

  —  E-mail: ppritt@register-herald.com

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