Legislators push to implement and improve medical cannabis law
Last update: February 11, 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, is here. Nearly three years later, patients still cannot register to use or access medical cannabis, and businesses have not yet been licensed.
Unfortunately, the law also continues to prohibit patients from obtaining cannabis in its natural, flower form, driving up costs. In 2018, an advisory board recommended allowing whole-plant cannabis.
The rollout of the program was 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.
The legislature also passed HB 2079, a bill that would allow vertical integration of dispensaries and increase the number of dispensaries to 100. Gov. Justice vetoed this bill, but the legislature passed a similar bill, SB 1037, during special session in May, and Gov. Justice signed it on May 29, 2019. The state is now accepting applications for cannabis business licenses.
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 marijuana 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.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in West Virginia, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s email alerts. And please urge your West Virginia lawmakers to support cannabis policy reforms during the 2020 session!