Photo Courtesy Marijuana Policy Project
Matt Simon, legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Hopeful for a signature from Governor Jim Justice, Matt Simon of the Washington D.C. based Marijuana Policy Project said the Medical Cannabis Act (S.B. 386) is a good start for cannabis legislation in the Mountain State.

“For states like West Virginia that are just ravaged by opioid addiction, and when so many patients are suffering from that, we see the evidence that cannabis can be a safer alternative and actually address those problems,” the legislative analyst said Friday on “The Gary Bowden Show” on the AJR News Network.

Though Simon, a Parkersburg native and WVU alumnus, described the version awaiting Justice’s signature as “watered down,” he said the MPP initially had little hope of legislation making it through West Virginia’s House of Delegates.

“I’m personally very excited to see my home state moving forward in a very limited fashion, but getting a start into this space,” he said.

Before the successful passage of the Medical Cannabis Act, Simon would routinely take trips to Charleston to get the lay of the land. He had very little hope for successful passage of a bill since the 2014 elections that resulted in a leadership change in the State Legislature for the first time in decades.

“We didn’t see any way of succeeding in passing a bill this year, and we were not very involved in this effort,” he said.

But Simon said there is something more powerful than lobbyists and advocacy groups.

“Shout out to the hundreds of West Virginians who took it upon themselves to come to the State House and call and e-mail their delegates and senators,” he said. “That’s really what made this happen. It was a truly grass roots effort in Charleston.”

If not for a reluctant revolt by rank-and-file members of the House GOP caucus against leadership, S.B. 386 may not have seen the light of day after passing in the State Senate by a 28-6 margin. Instead, a rarely successful discharge vote sent the Senate’s version of the Medical Cannabis Act straight to the House floor.

“That might not be the very best way to make great public policy,” Simon said. “It would have been better if the House had been willing to work on this bill and have committee hearings and take testimony.”

It did, eventually, undergo an amendment process that led to passage in the House, continuing a streak of bi-partisan and sometimes Republican-led efforts throughout the country to change the legal status of a drug that has long been a Schedule I narcotic at the federal level.

“Everybody can get cancer, for example, and find that prescription drugs don’t work or cause serious side effects,” Simon said. “Cannabis can be something that mitigates a person’s suffering. I think that’s why we’re seeing bi-partisan support.”

If Governor Justice signs the bill into law, West Virginia will become the 29th state in the union to have some form of legalized medical cannabis.

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