The Times West Virginian

January 26, 2014

Let’s have full debate about the use of marijuana for medical reasons

Times West Virginian

— It’s time to have a full and open debate.

Should the use of marijuana for medical purposes be legalized in West Virginia?

Such legislation was introduced last Thursday in Charleston. The bill would allow people with “debilitating medical conditions” to possess up to six ounces of marijuana and 24 cannabis plants to treat their symptoms — as long as they have written certification from a physician. Only 12 of the 24 plants could be mature at a time, and all would have to be be cultivated in an enclosed, locked space. The law would allow patients to designate “caregivers” to cultivate their 24 allotted plants for them. Each caregiver could grow marijuana for up to five patients.

The “debilitating medical conditions,” according to the bill, include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures and addiction to opiates or amphetamines.

The lead sponsor of the bill, Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, said he doesn’t expect the bill to pass in the fourth year he’s presented it. The fact that it’s an an election year could hinder the effort, Manypenny believes.

It appears, though, that the concept of medical marijuana is gaining support nationally and in West Virginia.

A new poll by Public Policy Polling, conducted in December, found 56 percent of West Virginians support legalizing medical marijuana for seriously ill patients, while 34 percent oppose. One year ago, a similar poll showed 53 percent of West Virginians supported legalization, while 40 percent opposed it.

Those numbers are close to a recent Times West Virginian poll that asked, “Should medicinal marijuana be legalized in West Virginia?” It found 55 percent support the idea, while 45 percent oppose.

Last October, the Silver-Haired Legislature, whose members include active West Virginia senior citizens, issued a position paper asking the state to adopt legalization.

“In many cases, it is a more effective and less-dangerous option than pharmaceutical drugs,” the position paper said. “The proposed reform would make it possible for adults battling illnesses to access marijuana safely and legally, without having to deal with an illicit market dominated by criminals.”

Twenty states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for medicinal use. Colorado and Washington are the only two states that have legalized both medical and recreational uses of marijuana.

Others states now reported to be considering legal medical marijuana are Kentucky, Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Tennessee and New York. States with 2014 legislation favorable toward medical marijuana but not legalizing it are Alabama and Indiana.

Opponents of medical marijuana have legitimate concerns. They say the drug has a high potential for abuse and that poorly written laws allow people to exploit loopholes in order to get high.

“We already have enough problems with prescription drugs,” state Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, told the Parkersburg News and Sentinel. “We would be opening the door for more problems.”

They deserve an opportunity to make their case, as do supporters.

For Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, for example, it’s personal. Moore’s oldest sister died of lupus, an autoimmune disease that can damage skin, joints and internal organs.

Moore told The (Beckley) Register-Herald that his sister’s life could have been easier if she’d been able to use medical marijuana.

“Life would have been a lot less painful for her,” Moore said. “I’m assuming other West Virginians have similar circumstances.”

Medical marijuana is an issue that deserves a full airing of the facts. Polls show it’s a proposal the public may be willing to support. The West Virginia legislative session would be an excellent forum.