Marijuana bill may be added to legislative session

CHARLESTON – State lawmakers said a bill allowing legal medical marijuana might be introduced this session with a wide range of views on the subject from local legislators.

In a press release from the Marijuana Policy Project, a recent poll conducted in December by Public Policy Polling (PPP), found 56 percent of voters support changing state law to allow people with serious illnesses to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it.

Just 34 percent said they were opposed. The same survey question asked by PPP in January 2013 found 53 percent supportive and 40 percent opposed.

“West Virginians clearly want the legislature to take action on this issue,” said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, who is a West Virginia native and graduate of West Virginia University. “Marijuana can be an effective treatment for a wide variety of debilitating medical conditions and symptoms. It’s time to adopt a policy that allows people to use it without fear of arrest.”

Medical marijuana has been used in treating people with debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS as advised by their physicians.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia allow patients with qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it, Simon said.

Del. John Ellem, R-Wood, said similar bills have been introduced in the past, but those bills’ wording was “too broad” for his comfort, covering too many conditions that could be effectively treated in other ways.

However, Ellem said he has been contacted by a number of people in support of this issue, people he would not traditionally believe would support this issue. In some cases it has been shown to help people with epilepsy and those prone to seizures as well as people facing terminal illnesses.

“I am not opposed to looking at it,” Ellem said of any bill introduced.

However, he would be less likely to support the measure if the definitions for medical marijuana use were too broadly written.

“I would want it more limited to the few conditions it is valid for,” he said.

Del. Anna Border-Sheppard, R-Wood, said she has a lot of reservations about this issue and any bill would have to be tightly defined on its use and distribution. Discussions among legislators she has heard doesn’t seem to indicate any bill submitted would make it very far.

State Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, is not for the issue. She has repeatedly received inquiries about this issue from a number of people and organizations.

“We already have enough problems with prescription drugs,” she said. “We would be opening the door for more problems.”

When people ask if she could support legalized medical marijuana, she has a straight and to the point answer.

“I say ‘no,'” she said.

Del. Tom Azinger, R-Wood, has also been approached by people he has known for years in support of this measure in the treatment of continual pain that medical marijuana might treat. In medical uses, the drug could be ingested in pill form and would not have to be smoked, Azinger added.

“I worry it will get abused,” he said. “It would have to be a tightly crafted bill for those who would need it.

“I would look at it then.”

Azinger has been appearing before local government bodies presenting his arguments for making pseudoephedrine – a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamine – available only by prescription, another issue that is expected to be taken up this session.

Azinger said people’s acceptance of medical marijuana has come from compassion for people in constant pain from a number of conditions.

“No one wants to see people in pain,” he said.

However, like anything else, the potential for abuse is great and any bill introduced would have to clearly define how it will be used and how people are able to get it, Azinger said.

“We have enough abuse now,” he said. “We don’t need anymore.”

Azinger is certain a bill will be introduced.

“I have no doubt about it,” he said.