CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Senate is expected to consider changes to the state’s medical marijuana program this final week of the 2018 Regular Legislative Session.

The House of Delegates passed a bill (HB 4345) last week that would increase the amount of growers, processors and dispensaries in West Virginia. The bill also allows for vertical integration, meaning businesses can act at any combination of growers, processors and dispensaries.

Other changes include allowing patients to pre-register for the program before it takes affect in July 2019 and to strengthen the requirements needed to qualify for medical marijuana.

Most of the changes came from recommendations made by the state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board. One change that did not make it into the bill was a request to provide the dry leaf form of the drug.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, state health officer and commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health — who oversees the board — said they provided that recommendation because of the support they received from the public.

“I think there was a lot of people across West Virginia who spoke about having dry leaf as a component of the recommendation and that’s the reason the board put that in,” Gupta said.

Gupta said the board is overall pleased with the changes the House did accept.

“We were really happy to see an understanding of why some of these changes are important in order to make sure that we have a viable program starting next year that actually helps West Virginians, with passion, to address issues that they are suffering from,” he said. “I think it’s a good step moving forward.”

The Senate could decide to include additional changes that the House did not approve.

“The Senate will be looking and seeing if there’s an opportunity to include the remainder of those recommendations within the current legislation as well,” Gupta said.

The bill is currently pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Governor Jim Justice signed the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act into law in April 2017.

Under the current law, medical marijuana will be available as pills; oils; for vaporization; in topical forms, like gels, creams or ointments; tinctures; liquids or dermal patches. Smokable and pre-made edible forms of marijuana are not permitted.

Patients and caregivers will be issued identification cards beginning on July 1, 2019. Gupta said he believes they’re on track for next year.

“There’s a lot of work that’s still ongoing, yet we feel very confident that regardless of how the legislation goes through, we’re going to be able to implement that,” he said.

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