CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State lawmakers have begun studying medical marijuana legislation in an effort to determine how such a law might work in West Virginia. The recent hearing by the Joint Committee on Health builds upon testimony presented earlier this year by more than a dozen state residents suffering from debilitating conditions who wish to use medical marijuana without fear of arrest.
Can you blame them?
There is a mountain of evidence demonstrating the medical benefits of marijuana. For example, it has been found to alleviate pain and reduce muscle spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. And for cancer patients, it can diminish the extreme nausea caused by chemotherapy and stimulate appetite to prevent dangerous weight loss. Not surprisingly, more than three out of four Americans recognize the legitimate medical benefits of marijuana, according to the Pew Research Center, and roughly the same percentage support laws that allow it.
Those who would benefit from medical marijuana should not have to choose between needlessly suffering or breaking the law. If their doctors believe it would be an effective treatment -- for many it can be more effective and present fewer side effects than prescription drugs -- they should be able to make that choice.
Twenty states plus the District of Columbia have enacted such legislation, and residents of the Mountain State suffering from multiple sclerosis, cancer, and other debilitating conditions are just as deserving of legal and safe access to medical marijuana as their counterparts around the country. The voters of West Virginia agree. A survey conducted in January by Public Policy Polling found majority support for changing the law to allow for the use of medical marijuana.
When the Legislature reconvenes in January, Del. Mike Manypenny (D-Taylor) will reintroduce a bill that would do just that. Fortunately, state lawmakers have the opportunity to review the measures that have been adopted around the country and take those states' experiences into account in order to develop a program that works best for West Virginia.
The Joint Committee on Health's study session provided a great starting point.
The discussion was centered primarily on the ways in which the state could best regulate the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana. Establishing such a system is crucial because it ensures patients have safe and reliable access to their medicine. Seriously ill people should not have to rely on the potentially dangerous underground market, where there is no quality control of the products. Proper regulation is also important because the federal government recently announced it would refrain from interfering with medical marijuana laws when sufficient state regulations are in place.
Of course, not all state medical marijuana laws are the same. Lawmakers in Charleston are fortunate in that they can look at 20 other states' laws and determine which features would work best for West Virginia. The fact that this process has already begun provides hope to countless seriously ill residents and their families, some of whom worry they might one day have to leave the state in order to follow their doctors' advice.
It is time for state lawmakers to take a long, hard look at the evidence surrounding this issue and build upon the knowledge that has been gained from the hearings held this year. If they do so objectively, they will surely agree that West Virginia should be the next state to enact a sensible medical marijuana law.
Simon, a West Virginia native and graduate of WVU, is a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, in Goffstown, N.H.