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Senate passes medical marijuana bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Senate passed legislation Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.

Senate Bill 386 — the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act — would create a state cannabis commission that would be responsible for developing policies and regulations to make medical cannabis available to qualifying patients.

Registered physicians would be allowed to prescribe marijuana for patients suffering from a list of conditions, including chronic diseases, muscle spasms and seizures.

This would be effective by July 2018.

The bill passed 28-6 with an amendment from Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan. The amendment includes post-traumatic stress disorder among the conditions which medical marijuana could be considered as a qualifying medical condition.

Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, was the bill’s sponsor. He has spoken on multiple occasions about medical marijuana since the bill’s introduction on Feb. 21.

Ojeda, who is a retired U.S. Army major who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, held 13 military dog tags during a floor speech in the chamber.

“Now, these are not people who died of post-traumatic stress disorder,” Ojeda said. “These are people who died in combat.”

Ojeda explained the impact of those serving, before transitioning to talking about the West Virginia 1092nd Engineer Battalion based out of Parkersburg.

“Everytime I found myself landing landing in Iraq or getting ready to leave Iraq or Afghanistan, it seems like the 1092nd was always on their way out or on their way in,” he said. “These are National Guard guys.”

Ojeda said poor communities tend to serve in the armed forces. He then mentioned his father-in-law, who Ojeda said is a Purple Heart recipient and has health problems.

“We can help our veterans,” he said. “We can help those by giving them the ability to have something to get them through the times that whenever they close their eyes, the only things they see is the faces of the ones they served with that didn’t come home.”

“It’s a gateway away from opioids, and a gateway to a better life for somebody that may only have two months to live.

Studies have shown evidence of medical marijuana being an effective treatment in dealing with nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, as well as reducing pain.

According to an upcoming report in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, medical marijuana legalization resulted in a 23 percent decline in hospital visits caused by opioid abuse. Additionally, the authors also note medical marijuana policies have no relationship with marijuana-related hospitalizations.

The West Virginia State Medical Association is opposed to medical marijuana, saying the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved its use and there is “insufficient evidence” that using raw marijuana is a safe and effective treatment.

The Trump amendment also sets punishments for people who distribute cannabis originally intended for a patient, caregiver or licensed dispensary.

The marijuana commission will consist of 16 members, including the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources and commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Resources.

The commission will also have a fund appropriated by the legislature. Ten percent of the fund’s profits will go toward education programs on cannabis use and recovery programs.

In addition, a qualifying patient would be allowed to grow two mature cannabis plants if they have proper certification from a physician.

In a statement, the Marijuana Policy Project voiced its approval of the bill’s passage.

“For many patients, medical marijuana is a far safer alternative to opioids and other prescription drugs,” said organization member Matt Simon. “Any delegates who are serious about addressing the opiate crisis in West Virginia need to consider the substantial benefits this law could have on that front.”

Simon is also West Virginia native and West Virginia University graduate according to the press release.

The bill will next be voted on in the House of Delegates. The chamber failed to pass its medical marijuana bill Tuesday, with 64 of 99 delegates voting against the measure.

Twenty-eight states and Washington, D.C. have already legalized cannabis for medicinal use.

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