Charleston – West Virginia lawmakers on Wednesday amended the state's medical marijuana law to allow patients to use the plant form of cannabis, according to a lawmaker and an advocate present.

After lawmakers pass laws, state agencies then write rules describing how they will implement those laws. In the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday evening, lawmakers were considering Senate Bill 339, a bundle of rules submitted for legislative approval by the state Department of Health and Human Resources, including several relating to the state's medical cannabis law passed in 2017.

That program has yet to be implemented, largely because the West Virginia State Treasurer's Office could find no banks to handle the revenue. Lawmakers amended the law during the 2019 legislative session to allow other types of financial institutions, including credit unions, to handle the revenue, and the treasurer's office announced in August 2019 that Charleston-based Element Federal Credit Union would be handling the revenue.

In committee Wednesday, Del. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, moved to amend a DHHR rule to allow patients to use the plant form of marijuana, according to Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, and Rusty Williams, a cancer survivor and medical cannabis advocate who was present. The 2017 law specified that medical marijuana may be dispensed by the following means: pill; oil; topical forms, including gels, creams or ointments; vaporization or nebulization; tincture; liquid; or dermal patch. People would be able to cook with the oil to make edibles.

Steele did not return a call Thursday.

Pushkin and Williams said that the motion was approved on a voice vote, with Del. Tom Fast, R-Fayette, speaking in opposition. Fast did not return an emailed request for comment Thursday.

Williams said he heard several nays.

"The ayes were much louder," he added. 

Locally, Del. Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, is on the committee. She did not respond to a text message Thursday seeking her position on the amendment.

Williams said that when he used medical cannabis during his cancer treatment, it would have been too difficult for him to keep down an edible. He also noted that when medical cannabis patients are able to vape versus taking pills, it's easier for them to self-regulate the right amount for their bodies.

He is frequently in touch with potential medical cannabis patients. 

"People are happy that they’re going to be able to get flower, but they’re frustrated that it could be two years before they have access," he said. "They should have done it from day one, but I'm glad to see they’ve decided to add this to the medical cannabis act before implementation."

Pushkin said that while DHHR is now accepting applications from growers and processors, he feels DHHR should already be issuing patient ID cards by now. He said DHHR isn't making implementation of the law a priority.

"We have a lot of sick and suffering West Virginians that could benefit from this program and we’re not putting their needs first and that’s sad," he said.

In February 2018, the state's medical cannabis advisory board recommended the law be altered to give patients access to dry leaf or plant form of cannabis, but they recommended it only to be used for vaping. 

The full House of Delegates next will vote on the rules bundles. The bundle had already passed the Senate without the amendment, so in order for the change to become law, the Senate would have to concur with the change. 

Email: ebeck@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @3littleredbones

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