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Governor Justice signs medical marijuana bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice said he was proud to sign Senate Bill 386, the Medical Cannabis Act.

“We’ve got a monumental day,” Justice said, opening his remarks on Wednesday afternoon.

Justice noted that all along he had indicated he would sign a medical marijuana bill if it were passed by the Legislature.

“With great pleasure, I’m going to sign this into law and I think all of us will feel like we’re doing something good for families out there,” Justice said.

The bill was not one that House or Senate leadership — or even the governor — talked about pushing before the 60-day session began.

Jesse Johnson

“The people of West Virginia banned together and stood up for one another,” said former Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson, who spent the legislative session lobbying for the medical marijuana bill.

Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan and the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, described the process as an uphill battle.

“It’s because of the efforts of so many people out there who are passionate about this,” Ojeda said today. “It was a fight to get this through the Senate. I had to ask Senator (Mitch) Carmichael to intervene to get it put on these committees and when it did it was still tough.”

The bill squeaked out of the Senate’s Health Committee on a 6-5 vote on March 24.

A version of Senate Bill 386 passed the Senate 28-6 on March 29. That bill was set up to create a state cannabis commission that would be responsible for developing policies and regulations to make medical cannabis available to qualifying patients.

“I’ve been up here working this for fourth years and this is the year we had Senator Ojeda as a driving force they had to yield to,” Johnson said.

The following day, members of the House of Delegates forced the bill out of its two committee assignments and to the floor. Following an hour long debate, the House approved the motion 54-40 with 35 Democrats and 19 Republicans voting in favor. The bill was then read a first time.

Delegate Michael Folk, a Republican member of the Liberty Caucus, made the motion to eject the bill out of its committee assignments. In Justice’s remarks today, the governor praised Folk.

“It took real bravery for Michael Folk to stand up and to say ‘No, the people need to be heard,’ and he did. And lo and behold the people did get heard,” the governor said.

“I’m a real believer that if you’re a legislator you can’t let your religious or your racial or your whatever beliefs you have transcend beyond you. You have to transcend that and you have to be a legislator and a public servant.”

On second reading, members of the House voted 51-48 in favor of a strike-and-insert amendment that made the bill more restrictive.

It uses the Bureau of Public Health to oversee medical marijuana in West Virginia. Growing your own plants for medical use would be banned.  It excludes the smoking of marijuana and also the sale and purchase of edible marijuana products.

By April 4, the bill passed the House, 76-24. The Senate then voted 26-6 the following day to accept the House’s version.

“It really was a cooperative effort in the House to get a bill out that people could vote for,” Delegate Mike Pushkin, R-Kanawha said today.

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