CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A new poll by Public Policy Polling, conducted last month, found 56 percent of West Virginians now support legalizing medical marijuana for seriously ill patients, while 34 percent oppose legalizing it.
One year ago, a similar poll by Public Policy Polling showed 53 percent of West Virginians supported legalization, while 40 percent opposed it.
During their upcoming session, state legislators will discuss legislation to legalize medical marijuana in West Virginia.
Matt Simon, a West Virginia native and West Virginia University graduate who is now a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said, "West Virginians clearly want the Legislature to take action on this issue.
"Marijuana can be an effective treatment for a wide variety of debilitating medical conditions and symptoms. It's time to adopt a policy that allows people to use it without fear of arrest," Simon said on Monday.
Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, introduced legislation to make medical marijuana legal in the Mountain State.
"I was quite surprised we didn't have a bigger bump after Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent at CNN, made an announcement about his change of opinion on this issue.
"And this last summer, Attorney General Eric Holder sent out a memorandum to all the states saying he would not prosecute people selling and using medical marijuana, as long as they followed their state regulations," Manypenny said.
"The opposition to legalizing medical marijuana seemed to go down. But we had just a three-point jump in approval from last year.
"I am still hopeful that we can use this information to sway some of the legislators who are still undecided," Manypenny said.
Manypenny's legislation would legalize marijuana for West Virginia residents with medical conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS. They would need prescriptions from their physicians to purchase it.
Simon said, "States around the nation have established programs that provide patients with safe and legal access to medical marijuana. West Virginia should be the next state to adopt one, not the last."
In September, Karmen Hanson, health program manager for the National Conference of State Legislatures, spoke to a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health of the West Virginia Legislature.
"California was the first state to allow medical marijuana, back in 1996. Today, 19 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana. It was approved in 12 states by election ballots and in eight states by legislative bodies," said Hanson, who spoke to the hearing by telephone from her offices in Denver.
Colorado and Washington are the only two states that have legalized both medical and recreational uses of marijuana.
"In 2009, [President] Obama announced the [federal] government would not prosecute states that allowed medical marijuana," Hanson said.
The new PPP survey also found growing support for broader marijuana policy reform among West Virginia voters.
A majority of 51 percent supported removing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and replacing those penalties with fines, similar to parking ticket fines, while 35 percent opposed removing criminal penalties.
In West Virginia, 46 percent of those surveyed supported making marijuana legal, then regulating it like alcohol.
The new PPP survey was conducted among 614 randomly selected West Virginia voters.
The Marijuana Policy Project is the nation's largest marijuana policy organization. It has played a central role in changing state marijuana laws since 2000. Its website is: www.MarijuanaPolicy.org.
Manypenny said, "To try to further the movement and get more support, we have been reaching out to the faith-based, law enforcement and medical professional communities for letters of support for the compassionate use of medical marijuana."Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.