The marijuana seed breaks through legislative ground

The most often used analogy about the legislative process is that it’s like making sausage; lots of different parts, some less desirable than others, ground together like casing meat.

And you don’t necessarily want to see close up how it’s done.

Even with sausage-making there is some structure, an organized process of bringing together the parts and melding them into a final product.  However, every once in a while the development of a law is more organic.  The analogy is more like throwing a bunch of different seeds into a patch of dirt and seeing what grows.

For this legislative session in Charleston, what has sprouted is a marijuana plant.

Legalizing cannabis for medicinal purposes was not a priority for Governor Justice, Republican or Democratic leaders when the session began two months ago.  House Speaker Tim Armstead’s opposition to the bill is well documented.

Earlier this month, Delegate Shawn Fluharty (D-Ohio) tried to insert an amendment to another drug-related bill legalizing medical marijuana, but it failed 35-64.  “I think it’s dead in this session,” Fluharty said.

However, medical marijuana wasn’t dead, the bill was simply germinating.

Two weeks later the bill surfaced in the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee where, after debate, it narrowly passed out 6-5.  The Senate Judiciary Committee took up the bill next and passed it out 13-3.  From there the full Senate debated and passed SB 386 by an overwhelming 28-6 margin.

Still, the House did not have to necessarily take up the bill, and Speaker Tim Armstead clearly did not want to.  He said on Talkline that there were more pressing matters, and the House had already voted down the amendment, which indicated that legalizing medicinal marijuana did not have support in his body.

But by this time, the germinating seed was bursting though the soil.  Supporters deluged their lawmakers with calls and emails urging passage.  Delegate Mike Folk (R-Berkeley), who is frequently an outlier within his own caucus, made a motion to discharge, thereby bypassing the committee process and bringing the bill directly to the floor.

Such motions are almost always defeated, but not this time. After a long debate, the House voted 54-40 (35 Democrats and 19 Republicans) to advance the bill. “My phone has been blowing up and I know that everybody else’s phones have been blowing up,” said Delegate Mike Caputo (D-Marion).  “Look, we’ve been hiding too long from this issue.”

Lawmakers took the weekend to review the 14-page bill, contemplate possible amendments, and consider the measure on second reading Monday.   Based on the vote late Thursday night, it appears the support is there for the measure to clear the House.  (It would still have to go back to the Senate if the House makes changes in the bill.)

If somehow the bill survives and Governor Justice signs it into law–he has said he’s not for legalized recreational marijuana, but has a more open mind about medicinal—it will be remarkable. After all, sausage making is the standard for legislation.

But every now and then the process is more primitive and that’s when a random seed may fulfill its destiny.





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