The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 29, 2013

No foes speak at House hearing on medical marijuana

Chairman encourages passion, doubts consideration this session

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — An ex-Marine who lost a brother to prescribed painkillers, a doctor and a nursing leader appealed to a House committee Thursday to legalize marijuana for therapeutic uses.

Eighteen people signed up for a special hearing by the Health and Human Resources Committee — a significant step in Delegate Mike Manypenny’s, D-Taylor, three-year crusade to legalize cannabis to lessen pain.

No one spoke against HB2961, and the first-ever hearing on the bill, while encouraging to supporters, doesn’t mean Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, plans to run it with only two weeks left in this session.

Even so, Perdue suggested the hearing couldn’t be dismissed lightly.

“Not long ago, primary seatbelts was a nowhere issue,” Perdue said, just hours after the House agreed to make failure to buckle up a primary traffic offense.

“Don’t lose your passion,” he advised supporters.

However, the health chairman indicated the bill, while not likely to come for a vote in the final two weeks, would be the topic of an interims study.

“It is not a dangerous drug,” insisted Dr. Paul Clancy, an emergency physician in West Virginia since 1995.

“I feel it can divert a lot of illegal drug abuse from criminal arenas.”

In his work, Clancy said he often sees “a lot of substance abuse at work of all flavors — alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, illegal drugs. What we don’t see a lot of is marijuana problems.”

Clancy pointed out that medical marijuana can take other forms besides burning the weed to inhale the smoke.

“It is not necessary to smoke joints to get medical benefits from cannabis,” he said.

Terry Lively, a 57-year-old diagnosed with multiple sclerosis nearly two decades ago, recalled how she became paralyzed on one side and suffered double vision. It took four months to recover, and the medications prescribed left her drowsy and nauseated.

A doctor recommended medical marijuana and it helped, she told the health committee.

“Life became better,” Lively said, noting she returned to school and earned a master’s degree.

Chris Yeager, who spent eight years in the Marine Corps, said West Virginia leads the nation in prescription pill overdoses, and one victim three years ago was a brother.

“My brother was not an addict,” he explained, pointing out he was prescribed various medicines to combat depression and anxiety.

More than 20 mental hygiene warrants were undertaken by the family, but each time he was assessed by doctors, once he came off the opiates, they merely decided he wasn’t a risk to himself and turned him loose, Yeager said.

“For someone who fought for this country, that answer is not good enough for me,” he said.

Aila Accad, president of the West Virginia Nurses Association in Charleston, said her group and the American Nurses Association both endorse the medical use of marijuana and have, in fact, held this position about a decade.

In fact, she said, “there is a growing body of evidence that marijuana has a significant margin of safety” when used under proper supervision to treat a host of disorders — from wasting syndrome to AIDS to cancer.

A Paden City resident, Joel Davis, told lawmakers he was born with congenital scoliosis and Klippel-Feil syndrome that causes spinal curvature.

Seeking to relieve pain, he said, doctors prescribed various strengths of Oxycontin and Percocet, along with anti-depressants, but the discomfort haunts him daily.

“Even just sitting causes me pain,” said Davis, who used crutches to get to the speaker’s podium.

Not long ago, Davis said, he visited a state where medical marijuana is legal, adding, “It was amazing how well it helped with my pain.”

“Oxycodone is a dangerous drug, but until patients are able to use cannabis,” he said, “I will have to take the risks of being on it. It’s time to allow patients who can benefit from medical marijuana to get the help they need. So many people, not just patients, will benefit from this bill passing because the amount of oxycodone on the street will be much lower.”