West Virginia Legislature will have opportunity to improve medical cannabis law in 2019
Last update: November 28, 2018
On April 19, 2017, Gov. Jim Justice signed West Virginia’s medical cannabis bill, SB 386, making West Virginia the 29th state to pass an effective medical cannabis law. The bill passed the Senate in a 28-6 vote on March 29, and it passed the House on April 4 in a 76-24 vote.
Unfortunately, the House amended the bill and made it much more restrictive before passing it, including by prohibiting cannabis in its natural, flower form. A summary of the law is here.
In 2018, the House and Senate approved different versions of a bill to improve the program, but the stronger Senate version never received a House vote. On February 28, 2018, the House passed HB 4345, which would have made limited improvements to the medical cannabis program, such as increasing the number of licenses available for growers and dispensaries. The state Senate made further improvements, including allowing cannabis in its whole plant, flower form, and sent the bill back to the House. On the last day of the session, March 10, the House refused to consider the amended bill.
Unfortunately, the rollout of the program has been delayed because of concerns about who will provide banking services to medical cannabis businesses. Southern District U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart has exacerbated the problem by threatening to prosecute businesses that enter the medical cannabis space.
The good news for advocates is that House Speaker Tim Armstead, who was responsible for holding back marijuana policy reforms throughout his four-year tenure, did not seek re-election in 2018. Armstead resigned his House seat in August and was subsequently appointed to a vacant seat on the state Supreme Court.
An advisory board tasked with making policy recommendations began holding meetings in August 2017. It has already recommended allowing whole-plant cannabis. 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.”
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