Charleston – During special session Monday, West Virginia lawmakers fixed and passed a bill meant to encourage medical marijuana businesses to come to West Virginia.

Gov. Jim Justice had vetoed the bill following the legislative session, saying the tax rates included unfairly favored certain businesses.

West Virginia's medical marijuana law passed in 2017. It was scheduled to take effect in July of this year but has been running behind schedule.

The bill that passed Monday, sponsored by Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, removes a provision from the 2017 law that states a marijuana grower or processor may not also be a marijuana dispensary. Pushkin has said this makes business in the state more lucrative.

His bill also allowed for more dispensaries in the state – up to 100, from 30, and allows patients to pre-register for the program.

Lawmakers agreed to an amendment by Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, that made lab testing a function of the private sector. He said that Analabs in Beckley is a provider. The state commissioner of agriculture previously had that responsibility, but Baldwin said that office lacked capacity to do so.

Lawmakers rejected an amendment by Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, that would have directed the state Bureau of Public Health to track and focus on encouraging minority, women and veteran-owned businesses. Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, argued that such a requirement would overburden DHHR. The amendment failed on a mainly party-line vote, with mostly Republicans voting against it. 

In the House of Delegates, the bill passed, 81-17, with two not voting. The no votes in the House included Dels. Roy Cooper, R-Summers; Tom Fast, R-Fayette; Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette; Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer; Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor; and Chris Toney, R-Raleigh. 

It passed the Senate 23-7. 

In his veto message, Justice had said that while he supports medical marijuana, he was vetoing the bill because it imposes different excise taxes depending on whether the business was a grower, dispensary or processor. Growers, processors and dispensaries that operated independently would have been taxed 10 percent of gross receipts from sales. But when the same business was the grower, processor, and dispensary, the tax would have been 5 percent of the gross receipts from sales to patients.

Lawmakers fixed the bill so that it solely taxes dispensaries, at 10 percent.

But Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said that doesn't mean some businesses, like growers, won't be taxed. 

Pushkin said that because IRS regulations prevent medical marijuana dispensaries from making business deductions, medical marijuana business integrate – meaning they include multiple functions, such as dispensing and growing – in order to make enough profit. 

Email: ebeck@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @3littleredbones

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