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W.Va. medical marijuana bill building steam, advocates say

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Advocates for a bill that would let West Virginians use marijuana for medicinal purposes have begun the first public push on the long road to cementing it as a law.

Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, held the bill's first informational forum Tuesday evening in the House of Delegates chambers, giving state experts a chance to tout the benefits of the drug and for the public to ask questions about the logistics of essentially allowing sick people to buy it from the government.

"These laws will be reformed," legislative analyst Matt Simon said. "West Virginia will reach the point where people understand if we're not going to make marijuana legal for adults, we at least need to make exceptions for the seriously ill."

Manypenny drafted a bill in January that would allow a person to get a registration card from the Department of Health and Human Resources to buy marijuana from a state licensed distribution or "compassion center".

People seeking a registration card must have a written recommendation from a doctor and sign a statement pledging not to give or sell marijuana to anyone who does not have a card. Patients with a registration card would be immune from arrest as long as they did not have more than six ounces of the drug, according to the bill.

The bill is based on dozens of studies that found marijuana helps alleviate pain for people who have chronic illnesses and debilitating medical conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis and AIDS.

States are not required to enforce federal law or prosecute people for engaging in activities prohibited by federal law, the bill states.

Dr. Paul Clancy, a former emergency room physician at Charleston Area Medical Center, said that in the years he has been practicing medicine, he has seen only four patients who claimed to have an ailment caused by marijuana.

Two of them were teenagers who were brought in by upset parents. The other two were adults who had panic attacks. Nothing was seriously wrong with any of the patients, he said.

"It's just not that common," Clancy said of the frequency of marijuana cases. "It's not that dangerous."

Clancy said there are some concerns about authorizing medical use of the drug. It might be a stretch, for instance, to allow a 23-year-old with a relatively trifling condition to have a registration card.

 But Clancy said he sees substance abuse every day of his professional career and believes the medical benefits of marijuana would far outweigh the risk of legalizing it.

Manypenny said that he is trying to generate more interest among lawmakers and hopes that the bill will be placed on the agenda for debate, but did not know when that might happen.

Two delegates, he said, have given their tentative support for the bill.

"If they sign on, I believe others will follow," he said.

Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.Taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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