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West Virginia Medical Marijuana

West Virginia has finally legalized medical marijuana with the signing of Senate Bill SB 386. Gov. Jim Justice signed the bill into law Wednesday, April 19th, making WV the 29th state to legalize medical cannabis. In keeping with his promise before he was successfully elected as governor, Jim Justice said that denying so many people the opportunity to enjoy relief from chronic pain was not wise, charitable or caring.

SB 386, which was introduced by Sen. Richard Ojeda (a retired soldier), provides legal protection from arrest and prosecution for patients who have any of the sixteen qualifying conditions contained in the bill. The qualifying medical conditions include terminal illnesses, HIV/AIDS, sickle-cell anemia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, ALS, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, seizures, intractable pain and cancer.

S.B. 386 allows individuals affected by specified debilitating conditions to obtain medical cannabis in the form of pills, oil, topical forms, liquid, tincture, dermal patch, and non-whole plant forms for use with a nebulizer or vaporizer but does not support treating these conditions with smoking or packaged edible products. The comprehensive medical marijuana bill has created a fee structure for dispensaries and growers and will issue 30 dispensary permits and 10 grower permits. The Bureau of Public Health will start issuing marijuana patient ID cards on July 1, 2019.

Now that West Virginia has enacted its Medical Cannabis Act, residents and natives will be able to apply for registration with the state Bureau of Public Health under the WV Medical Cannabis Commission. Every patient needs to have a legitimate physician-patient relationship with a doctor for at least six months before asking the doctor for a recommendation.

After six months, the physician can carry out a thorough assessment of the patient’s medical history and a physical examination to prove they have a condition that qualifies them for medical marijuana treatment. Subsequently, the doctor will apply for the patient to use medical marijuana and take responsibility for the continuous treatment and follow-up care of the patient.

After the patient is duly registered, a marijuana ID card will be issued starting July 1, 2019. The WV Medical Cannabis Commission will provide licenses for marijuana dispensaries starting July 1, 2020.

A maximum of sixty dispensaries will be established with a diverse geographical spread. All registered marijuana patients will able to obtain up to a month’s supply of their recommended dose from a licensed dispensary.

Each dispensary will be allowed to process, transfer, transport, sell and distribute approved forms of cannabis. The permitted forms of cannabis include oils, pills, tinctures, gels, creams and non-whole-plant forms that can be administered through vaporization.

Limitations of the New Legislation

The present bill does not allow patients to grow their own pot — nor does it permit licensed dispensaries to sell whole plants or edibles. Another drawback in the new medical marijuana law is the regulation that controls driving under the influence of marijuana. It requires any person tested by law enforcement to have less than 3 nanograms per milliliter of THC in their bloodstream.

If a driver exceeds the maximum tolerated amount, that person could have their driver’s license revoked. This implies that many people who are eligible to use medical cannabis in WV may not be able to drive, because the amount of THC in their blood may be above 3 ng/ml for many hours after taking their recommended dose of medical marijuana.

The Potential Economic Boost of Legal Marijuana in West Virginia

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy issued an analysis in 2016 of the potential economic impacts of legalizing weed. The report focused on the areas that have legalized recreational use, a list that includes four states as well as the District of Columbia. According to the report, a 2013 poll showed that the majority of state residents supported the decriminalization of weed, as well as making it legal for medical purposes.

However, only 46 percent approved legalizing pot completely and taxing it in a manner similar to alcohol.

The report showed that legalizing marijuana could take a great deal of financial pressure off of the state, which was projected to have a $300 million budget deficit in the 2018 fiscal year. West Virginia has suffered terribly in recent years, according to the analysis, with the chief reason being an undiversified economy that relies too heavily on the coal industry, which has faded substantially.

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By modernizing the state’s marijuana laws, the Center argues, West Virginia could take a critically important step in addressing many problems and save a great deal of money at the same time. These are just a few of the more important findings of the report.

  • A potential windfall: The Center estimates that if weed became legal in West Virginia and taxed at a 25 percent rate, the state would eventually see revenues of $45 million each year. That number could skyrocket to nearly $200 million if just 10 percent of people who use pot and live within a 200-mile radius of the state visited West Virginia to buy weed.
  • Substantial savings: The report states that it cost the state approximately $17 million to enforce marijuana laws in 2010 alone. By either decriminalizing or legalizing weed, the state could save a significant amount of money each year.
  • Job growth: Legalizing weed would lead to new jobs on both a direct and indirect basis. The report looked at Colorado as an example, which had more than 1,000 marijuana-related retail businesses and more than 25,000 people licensed to work in the industry as of September 2015. Not only would employment rise if West Virginia were to legalize weed, but tourism would also increase — particularly in areas of the state that feature outdoor attractions.
  • Public safety: Marijuana legalization, the report stated, could also have a positive impact on the heroin and opioid painkiller addiction epidemics in the state. Weed would provide people with a less-addictive alternative that offers known therapeutic benefits for patients suffering from a wide range of medical conditions.

Another Powerful Voice

If the report wasn’t convincing enough, the former chief justice of the West Virginia Court of Appeals also came out in favor of legalizing marijuana in West Virginia. Richard Neely wrote in the West Virginia Record in February 2017 that the state is uniquely positioned to benefit financially by legalizing weed since no neighboring states have done so. He cited Colorado as an example of how legalizing cannabis could bring substantial financial benefits.

According to Neely, marijuana purchases totaled more than $1 billion in 2016, and the state collected approximately $150 million in direct taxes on cannabis products. That’s not even taking into account indirect taxes on workers, real estate where dispensaries reside and on facilities where weed is cultivated.

By legalizing pot now, Neely wrote, West Virginia will have a leg up on neighboring states and have a lucrative monopoly that could last at least three or four years. Neely states that “any 12-year-old” can find weed within 30 minutes. The only question is how long it will take for West Virginia legislators to finally realize the opportunity that sits right in front of them. He says that instead of taking the “half-way measure” of first establishing a medical marijuana program, state leaders should jump directly into legalization for recreational use.

West Virginia Marijuana Laws

Recreational marijuana and medicinal marijuana in the flower form will continue to be illegal in West Virginia. Possessing any amount of recreational weed is punishable by a jail term of between 90 days and six months as well as a $1,000 fine. Selling or distributing any amount of marijuana is a felony punishable by a prison term of one to five years as well as a maximum fine of $15,000. S.B. 386 has created new crimes to penalize violations of the law. This will include penalties for physicians who knowingly certify a person for medical cannabis under false pretenses and regulations for patients and caregivers in possession of medical cannabis. Learn more in our section on West Virginia marijuana laws.

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