The chairman of the West Virginia House Judiciary Committee on Friday asked for, and received, more time for his committee to study and amend a bill that would allow the use of medical marijuana.
House members voted 54-40 to fast-track the bill and read it for a first time Thursday evening. The vote came in response to concern that House leadership would kill the bill. It already had passed the Senate and needs to be read three times in the House of Delegates and signed by the governor to become law.
House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said Friday that he wanted to wait until Monday to read the bill a second time. That’s when bills can be amended on the House floor, and Shott said he wants time for the Judiciary Committee to review the bill and propose an amendment.
Shott asked for unanimous consent to postpone further consideration of the bill until Monday, and no one objected.
The bill (SB 386), the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, would create the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Commission, which would oversee medical marijuana regulation in the state. It also sets up a revenue fund, includes a list of qualifying health conditions (which the commission could later add to), requires background checks for people involved in the system and prohibits operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana. The bill states that the commission wouldn’t begin issuing licenses until July 2020.
Shott said that while he didn’t vote to fast-track the bill Thursday, he does believe in making even a bill he opposes be “the best it can possibly be.”
He said that, after reviewing the bill, he believes it gives too much power to a commission. It also doesn’t list standards for edibles — food products that contain marijuana — such as requiring packaging that identifies the food as containing marijuana.
“The way I read this bill, it’s kind of a Wild West approach,” Shott said.
Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock and a supporter of the bill, asked Shott if supporters would have a say in the process.
“We will make this as open as we can,” Shott said, noting that 75 people in the committee room might create “logistical problems.”
In a later interview, McGeehan said, “Leadership has given us, throughout this entire session, reason for distrust.”
“They could come up with language to poison the bill,” he said of Shott and other bill opponents.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, said Friday that “they’re trying to kill this bill.”
“They’re angered at the fact their dictatorship is starting to crumble,” he said. “Remember, we are actors. Our job is to follow the script of the people of West Virginia.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 28 states have comprehensive medical cannabis programs.
The Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for marijuana legalization, recently sent a statement from Matt Simon, a West Virginia native who works for the organization.
“For many patients, medical marijuana is a far safer alternative to opioids and other prescription drugs,” he said. “Any delegates who are serious about addressing the opiate crisis in West Virginia need to consider the substantial benefits this law could have on that front.”