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Details of medical marijuana bill unveiled

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State lawmakers got their first glimpse Wednesday of a draft bill that would legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes in West Virginia.

A joint House-Senate health committee unveiled the proposed legislation that would allow people with specific illnesses, such as cancer, to possess up to six ounces of marijuana and a dozen marijuana plants and seedlings. 

The bill would require people to get a certificate from a doctor to use marijuana. Five nonprofit "compassion centers" across the state would distribute the drug.

"It's a very well-written and comprehensive bill," said Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, who has sponsored similar legislation in past years. "It's a step in the right direction to now get feedback from members [of the Legislature] to see what concerns they may have."

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow the use of medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Charlie Roskovensky, a lawyer for the House Health and Human Resources Committee, said the draft bill includes many provisions that legislators may opt to strip out during the upcoming legislative session, which starts in January.

"The bill was put together in a fashion ... pretty much throw everything in there and let you guys take anything away from the bill," Roskovensky told lawmakers at Wednesday's interim committee meeting. "It was more along the lines of to let you know what the possibilities are, and let you take things away."

Under the draft legislation, people would take doctors' certificates to state offices operated by the Department of Health and Human Resources and receive "registry identification cards" to use marijuana for medical purposes.

Patients would present the registration ID cards at the compassion centers -- at five sites the first year, and another six locations the following year -- which would distribute marijuana in West Virginia. 

The centers would be taxed, generating state revenues earmarked for substance abuse treatment programs, Manypenny said.

"The taxes collected would be put in a special fund, which could be used for substance abuse treatment and drug prevention in our schools," he said. "We don't have enough funding to treat all the patients who now have substance abuse problems."

Under the bill, out-of-state patients also could frequent the distribution centers, provided they had a valid registration card from their home states.

The DHHR would solicit bids from companies that want to operate the distribution facilities.

In addition to cancer, patients with glaucoma, Crohn's disease, the HIV virus, hepatitis C, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis and advanced Alzheimer's disease would be allowed to possess marijuana for medical use.

House health committee Chairman Don Perdue acknowledged the medical marijuana bill would be a tough sell during an election year. But he wanted to put a proposal in writing for lawmakers to review.

"What we're seeking now is a collective opinion," Perdue said. "It's very difficult to draft legislation out of whole cloth, despite the fact we have other states that have done it. You have to be able to fit that down in West Virginia with our statutes and codes."

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.

 


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