WV House fast-tracks medical marijuana bill

A bill that would permit marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes in West Virginia was read for the first time on the House of Delegates floor Thursday evening.

Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, asked for unanimous consent to dispense with committee references and give the bill immediate consideration. After debate and related motions, delegates voted 54-40 to dispense with committee references, and the bill, Senate Bill 386, was read a first time.

“It’s a personal liberty issue — a personal responsibility issue,” Folk said.

The bill, which would create a West Virginia Medical Cannabis Commission charged with overseeing medical marijuana regulation, had already passed the West Virginia Senate in a 28-6 vote Wednesday. It normally would have had to go through the committee process before it could be read on the House floor.

“The reason the motion had to be made was the speaker has no intentions of ever running that bill,” Folk said. “This is a way to get a vote on a bill that has been vetted by the Senate thoroughly.”

Folk had asked earlier Thursday why the bill hadn’t been reported to the House floor, but said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, “didn’t really give a clear answer.”

The bill later was listed in messages received from the Senate during a floor session later in the day.

“If I wouldn’t have asked why the message wasn’t received, he would have never put it on the messages this evening,” Folk said.

“This was a no confidence vote in the speaker,” said Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock and chairman of the Liberty Caucus.

Steve Harrison, House clerk, said that it wasn’t unusual that the bill wasn’t among messages received on the House floor Thursday morning.

“It’s not always immediately taken up at the next floor session,” he said.

Medical marijuana advocates were calling Armstead’s office on Thursday, in response to predictions that House leadership would kill the bill.

Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, had said, “It’s not dead, but it’s definitely in limbo.”

“They’re playing games over there,” Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan and the lead sponsor of the bill, had said earlier in the day. “You’ve got one or two people that are basically going to try to play God over thousands upon thousands of people in this state that are desperately in need of relief.”

Jared Hunt, spokesman for the House of Delegates, had said earlier in the day the bill was in “a large pile of Senate messages sitting in the Clerk’s office that are waiting to be processed and assigned committee references.”

The bill now must go through second reading (the amendment stage) and third reading (the final vote) in the House of Delegates, and be signed by the governor, before it becomes law.

Reach Erin Beck at 304-348-5163, erin.beck@wvgazettemail.com, Facebook.com/erinbeckwv, or follow @erinbeckwv on Twitter.

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