Right now there is at least a faint hint that the 2014 state Legislature may consider a bill to authorize the legalization of medical marijuana. Advocates and some physicians now claim marijuana can alleviate some illnesses or other medical conditions.
But the federal government doesn’t condone it so an anticipated debate about the issue looms during the next 60-day legislative session that begins in just a little more than three months. An interim committee discussed the issue at a hearing last month and watched a CNN report about how medical marijuana helped one child with her severe epilepsy.
The stumbling block for many state lawmakers is that the federal government is not on the bandwagon to legalize medical marijuana usage. Explanations of how states are handling the issue were front and center in a couple of presentations to the joint Senate and House health committees at last month’s meetings.
So far 20 states and Washington D. C. have legalized marijuana for medical use. And the Obama administration has said it will not try to criminally prosecute people who follow the laws in that state. But some reluctant legislators in West Virginia apparently would prefer a definitive green light from the federal government.
Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, is a physician and also vice chairman of the House Health Committee. He said he would like to “see the feds get on boards with us. If the FDA were to say there is some medical reasons to use this and back us up, then I think state legalization is not an unreasonable thing.”
Members of both houses’ committees on health heard from Karmen Hanson, a health policy expert with the National Conference of State Legislatures, and Matt Simon, a lobbyist and analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, about how other states had handled legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.
Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, chairs the House Health Committee and he is sponsoring a resolution that calls for a study of this issue in West Virginia. He said the federal stance is a concern for some legislators. And as a retired pharmacist, he knows that many drugs have the capacity for abuse.
Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, is also a physician and he has concerns about the possibility that legalized marijuana in this state could become a so-called “gateway drug” that leads to individuals using other more dangerous drugs.
The most positive — and patient — legislative supporter of legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes is Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor. He believes it will at least emerge from committee at the 2014 legislative session.
He realizes 2014 is an election year for all 100 members of the House of Delegates and half of the 34 members of the state Senate. He would like to see it come to the floor for a vote of the full membership next year and said he is confident it can pass the Legislature no later than 2015.