The state Senate approved legislation Wednesday evening (28-6) that would allow patients with certain debilitating conditions to access medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it.
SB 386, the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, is sponsored by Sen. Richard Ojeda (D-Logan). It would establish an independent 16-member West Virginia Medical Cannabis Commission, including medical professionals, law enforcement officials, and government agency representatives, to establish and oversee a state medical marijuana program. The commission would create patient ID cards, set fees, craft regulations for production and distribution, and determine the conditions for which physicians can recommend medical marijuana.
The bill will now be considered in the House of Delegates, where a similar measure stalled in committee earlier this year.
“We applaud the Senate for standing up for seriously ill West Virginians and giving them hope with this much-needed legislation,” said Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project, who is a West Virginia native and graduate of West Virginia University. “For many patients, medical marijuana is a far safer alternative to opioids and other prescription drugs. 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. We hope Speaker Armstead will review the facts and give this bill a fair shake in the House.”
A review of more than 10,000 scientific abstracts released in January by the National Academies of Sciences found “conclusive or substantial evidence” that cannabis is effective in the treatment of chronic pain. A study published this year in International Journal of Drug Policy found marijuana is an effective replacement for opioids to treat severe pain. Research published in October 2016 found a 48% reduction in patients’ opioid use after three months of medical marijuana treatment, and patients using cannabis in addition to opioids found that 39% reduced their opioid dosage and another 39% stopped using opioids altogether. Health Affairs reported in July 2016 that doctors in states where marijuana is legal prescribed an average of 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers per year to patients enrolled in Medicare Part D, resulting in significant cost savings. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2014 found that opioid overdose deaths were reduced by 25% in states with effective medical marijuana laws.
“Thousands of seriously ill West Virginians are anxiously waiting for their lawmakers to do the right thing and pass this bill,” Simon said. “They shouldn’t have to suffer or be treated like criminals while patients in 28 other states can legally access medical marijuana.”
Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted effective medical marijuana laws and 16 states have adopted medical marijuana laws that are ineffective because they are either unworkable or exceptionally restrictive. West Virginia is one of only six states in the nation that has not adopted any form of medical marijuana law.