CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When a special session for lawmakers begins as early as Sunday at the State Capitol, supporters of West Virginia’s medical marijuana law want to see a proposed financial plan for the industry on its call.
“The banking issue, in regards to the medical cannabis program, is the most pressing issue with that program that we need to address right now,” said Delegate Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha, 37).
He and other West Virginia House Democrats have been circulating an online petition through the West Virginia Democratic House Legislative Committee calling for the issue to be taken up in the coming days.
During a Special Session, it’s up to Governor Jim Justice to determine what bills lawmakers can address.
“We’re at the stage here soon where the fees for the licensing applications should be coming in and, to put it bluntly, we need someplace to put the money,” said Pushkin.
“If we don’t have anyplace to put the money, the program is on hold.”
Existing banks have indicated being uncomfortable or unwilling to process funds from medical marijuana because marijuana is illegal under federal law.
Earlier this month, state Treasurer John Perdue sent a letter to Justice proposing two possible alternatives: (1) establishing a state bank or (2) establishing a third-party loop system through a vendor.
Each option would require legislative action and, Pushkin said, lawmakers should be given the opportunity to act.
The West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act was passed during the 2017 Regular Legislative Session and is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2019 which is when the first patient identification cards should be issued.
“It (the law) passed with the overwhelming, bipartisan majority in both the House and the Senate,” Pushkin said. “The reason it did is because it has overwhelming support from the people of West Virginia.”
A regulatory framework needed for the implementation of the legalization was left unaddressed in the House of Delegates on the final night of the 2018 Regular Legislative Session after changes made to the legislation within the state Senate.
Pushkin argued the legalization of medical marijuana will help West Virginians in pain while also creating jobs and revenue for the state.
“For that reason alone, I think we should take it up during a Special Session and do it right,” he said.
As of Thursday morning, a Special Session call had not been released.
Sunday, May 20 at 6 p.m. was the designated start time for it, according to a calendar for May interim meetings on the West Virginia Legislature’s website.
“Sign the petition below to demand that Governor Justice add the fix for West Virginia’s Medical Cannabis Act to the agenda,” the petition reads. “Our people deserve another option when it comes to pain management, so sign the petition today!”
“Nobody thought that the bill was going to pass in 2017. What made a difference was people speaking up, so we’re asking people to speak up again,” Pushkin said.