Legislature adds whole plant access to medical cannabis law in 2020
Last update: November 9, 2020
On April 19, 2017, Gov. Jim Justice signed West Virginia’s medical cannabis bill, SB 386, making West Virginia the 29th state to pass a medical cannabis law. The bill passed the Senate in a 28-6 vote, and it passed the House in a 76-24 vote. A summary of the law, as amended in 2019 and 2020, is here.
More than three years later, patients still cannot register to use or access medical cannabis, and businesses have not yet been licensed, but there have been some encouraging signs of progress. The state issued 10 cultivation licenses in October, and regulators say they hope the program will begin serving patients in spring 2021.
At first, the law prohibited patients from obtaining cannabis in its natural, flower form. In 2018, an advisory board recommended allowing whole-plant cannabis, and in 2020, the legislature added “dry leaf or plant form” to the law by passing SB 339.
The rollout of the program was initially delayed because of concerns about who will provide banking services to the state’s medical cannabis program and to medical cannabis businesses. Southern District U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart exacerbated the problem by threatening to prosecute businesses that enter the medical cannabis space.
In an effort to address these banking issues, in 2019, the legislature passed HB 2538, a bill that will allow credit unions to bid for the state’s account and will seek to protect state employees from potential prosecution. Gov. Justice signed this bill into law.
In 2019, the legislature also passed SB 1037, a bill that allows vertical integration of dispensaries and increase the number of dispensaries to 100.
More information about the advisory board and the medical cannabis program can be found at the website for the Office of Medical Cannabis.
Think tank reports that legalization would boost West Virginia’s economy, provide safer alternative to opioids
In August 2016, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy published an in-depth report examining the potential economic and budgetary impacts of legalizing cannabis in the state. They concluded that West Virginia could raise approximately $45 million in taxes and save $17 million currently spent on enforcement. The report also noted that “marijuana may potentially have a positive impact on West Virginia’s opioid-based painkiller and heroin epidemic by offering another, less-addictive alternative to individuals who are suffering from debilitating medical conditions.”
Legislators have introduced several bills to tax and regulate cannabis sales, but the bills have not been scheduled for a hearing or a vote. On January 31, 2020, a bipartisan group of delegates introduced HB 4625, a bill that would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis for adults 21 and older. Unfortunately, Gov. Justice has indicated that he strongly opposes legalizing cannabis.
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