Medical cannabis bills die with 2021 session

HUNTINGTON — While new research shows most Americans support cannabis legalization, the West Virginia Legislature defeated bills this year to improve the medical cannabis program.

The West Virginia Senate passed two bills aimed at improving the program, which passed four years ago but has yet to provide any relief to patients. Neither bill passed the House, which has more staunchly anti-cannabis members than the Senate.

Senate Bill 231 amended several sections of the Medical Cannabis Act, reducing fees for patients and adding to the list of approved conditions to receive a medical card.

Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the bill was similar to bills passed by the Senate for the past three years and puts back language initially included in the Medical Cannabis Act when it passed the Senate in 2017.

New conditions included in the bill included migraine, HIV, autism and anorexia, and it permitted the commissioner of the Office of Medical Cannabis to offer suggestions for new conditions to the advisory board.

The bill removed course requirements for physicians. Trump said doctors do not prescribe medical cannabis, just the medical conditions that the state approves. It also protects doctors from liability.

Universities would have been permitted to study medical cannabis under the bill, and patients would have been able to purchase medical cannabis from other states that enter in reciprocal agreements with West Virginia.

The bill also raised the tax from 10% to 20%.

Dry leaf and edibles were added as permitted forms of cannabis. The Senate also passed Senate Bill 590 to add edibles to the list of permitted forms.

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, said he wrote the Medical Cannabis Act with two combat veterans in mind. The ability to consume cannabis through an edible form was important to them.

“I will introduce both those bills next session,” Woelfel said. “I’m very disappointed that the House chose not to really take up either bill in a meaningful way. Our medical marijuana law is the most conservative in the country. I know because I wrote it. It’s very conservative. This was a minor change to help people with very severe illnesses — end-of-life illnesses ordinarily.”

Opponents of the medical cannabis program, like Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, say it is a gateway to recreational legalization. But most Americans are now in favor of legalizing both medical and recreational use, according to a new Pew Research Center study.

“The House equated this to free weed on every corner,” Woelfel said. “That lack of understanding the issues kept us apart from any other state. It’s superficial to choke on this medical aspect like it’s surrendering to the ‘War on Drugs.’ It’s very sad. We claim we want people to move here, but it makes it look very backward.”

According to the study, 91% of U.S. adults say they are in favor of both medical and recreational cannabis. Fewer than 1 in 10 adults say it should not be legal for use by adults.

From 2000 to 2019, the share of Americans saying marijuana should be legal more than doubled.

Those 70 and older are still more likely to oppose any type of use, and Republicans are more wary than Democrats.