Legal pot could help patients, analyst says
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legalizing marijuana for medical uses could help many patients in West Virginia, as it is already doing in about 20 other states, a legislative analyst told state lawmakers Wednesday.
During a hearing before the West Virginia Joint Committee on Health at the state Capitol Complex Wednesday, Matt Simon, an analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said, "There is no reason to continue depriving seriously ill West Virginians of the right to use medical marijuana to improve the quality of their lives."
The hearing was chaired by Delegate Don C. Perdue, D-Wayne, and state Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone.
Earlier this year, Delegate Michael Manypenny, D-Taylor, had introduced a bill to allow medical marijuana in West Virginia.
Marijuana can help alleviate severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, cancer and HIV/AIDS, Simon said.
Karmen Hanson, health program manager for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said, "California was the first state to allow medical marijuana, back in 1996.
"Today, 19 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medical marijuana. It was approved in 12 states by election ballots and in eight states by legislative bodies," said Hanson, who spoke to the hearing from her offices in Denver, Colo.
Colorado and Washington are the only two states that have legalized both the medical and recreational uses of marijuana. "In 2009, Obama announced the [federal] government would not prosecute states that allowed medical marijuana," Hanson said.
Typically, patients who use medical marijuana, farmers who grow it and dispensaries that sell it must register with their state governments, Hanson said.
In Colorado, she pointed out, marijuana is sold in three main forms: traditional dried plants that are smoked by patients, marijuana prepared for use in edible products or pills, and marijuana that can be added to drinks.
"Smoking is the most efficient way to use marijuana," said Simon, a New Hampshire resident and a West Virginia University graduate. "Any time you swallow marijuana, it takes a lot more to have the same effect."
As a result, smoking marijuana tends to be the cheapest way to use it.
"What patients are concerned about is to be protected from arrest if their doctors prescribed marijuana for them and to have a way to purchase it safely and legally," Simon said.
Fifteen states allow some patients to cultivate marijuana plants in their own homes.
Laws legalizing medical marijuana typically prevent patients from being punished or discriminated against in several ways, including: loss of employment, loss of child custody, landlord-tenant relations and permission to receive organ donations and other medical care, Simon pointed out.
Some medical experts stress that marijuana use may prevent the use of dangerously addictive drugs, Simon said.
Ken Albert, director of Maine's Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services -- the agency that manages that state's medical marijuana program, made that point to the Portsmouth Herald last October.
"There are many patients who have been able to be removed from opiate therapy. They are able to be moved by a physician over to a regimen of medicinal marijuana," Albert said. "It enables them to have a better quality of life. Opiate addiction is terrible. For chronic pain, medical marijuana is a viable option."
Albert added, "There is a constant tension between the medical marijuana program and the ability for law enforcement to regulate criminal activity."
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.