LISTEN MetroNews Capitol Report on Thursday’s debate.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. –– At the midway point of the legislative session, lawmakers who support legalization of marijuana for medical use realize getting a bill through the legislature now will be tough.  Thursday they chose a different approach.

The committee substitute for the bill (HB 2526) is roughly the same boiler plate legislation approved annually to adjust the state’s regulations on classification of controlled substances to reflect any changes in those standards by the federal government. Delegate Shawn Fluharty (D-Ohio) in a strategic move, offered an amendment on the floor during the second reading of the bill Wednesday to move marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance to Schedule IV in West Virginia.

“The intent is clear.  It’s to help people,” said Fluharty in explaining his amendment. “If the intent was to fully legalize it we’d run a legalization bill, or at least introduce one.  This does not do that.  Let’s not fall for fear.”

The amendment ultimately failed but it opened up a nearly two hour debate on the House floor on the merits and pitfalls of legal weed.The debate often became emotional at times on both sides.

“The bill is there, but unfortunately it’s been triple-referenced.  If you’re going to vote for it, today’s your chance to vote for it,” said Delegate Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha) who introduced the bill to legalize medical cannabis . “It has been effective in helping people going through chemotherapy or suffering from M-S or Parkinson’s disease.  People have been using it for years for medical treatment.”

“Sixty-one percent of the citizens of the state of West Virginia want medical marijuana,” said Delegate Isaac Sponaugle (D-Pendleton). “I am tired of this state being backward and always last to clear the hurdle.  We’re in the minority of states that aren’t doing this.”

Opposition to the measure came in two forms., first opposition to the policy of legalizing marijuana, and second, opposition to the process of amending the legalization into an unrelated bill.  Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have some form of legalized marijuana but none had taken the step of moving it from a Schedule I to a Schedule IV controlled substance.  The tactic worried House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott.

“We’re sowing the seeds of uncertainty,” said Shott in remarks to the amendment. “A lot of things could happen and all of those things would need to happen before we take this step.”

“Why are we so scared of helping people?” Fluharty argued in closing floor debate. “That’s exactly what this does.”

The final vote on the amendment was 35 for and 64 against.

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