West Virginia is poised to become the 30th state to legalize medical marijuana after the State Senate approved a legalization bill on Wednesday. The bill (SB 386) cleared the West Virginia Senate by an overwhelming margin of 28-6, but it still has to clear two major hurdles and overcome longstanding cannabis stigmas before it becomes law in the Mountain State.
The first hurdle is the House of Delegates, where a similar medical marijuana bill was defeated earlier this session by a vote of 64-35. That's why advocates are urging local lawmakers will take the state's potential patients into consideration before deciding the new bill's fate.
"We hope Speaker [Tim] Armstead will review the facts and give this bill a fair shake in the House,” Matt Simon - a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) - said in a press release. “Thousands of seriously ill West Virginians are anxiously waiting for their lawmakers to do the right thing and pass this bill.”
If it passes, advocates and lawmakers will then have to put pressure on Governor Jim Justice (D) to sign the bill, which might be a tough sell because he still considers cannabis a potentially dangerous substance. Last year, he told reporters that he wanted to get the state's opioid problem under control before considering medical marijuana.
"I really think from a prescription drug standpoint, it’s really out of control and I worry so much that we best better get that under control before we add another thing to the plate,” Governor Justice told The Register Herald in April 2016.
But medicinal cannabis could actually help the governor get West Virginia's opioid problem under control. Numerous recent studies suggest that the rates of opioid abuse decline in states that have legalized medical marijuana. So lawmakers that want to combat America's opioid epidemic should consider marijuana as an alternative to the prescription pills that often lead to addiction.
“For many patients, medical marijuana is a far safer alternative to opioids and other prescription drugs," Simon added. "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."
And West Virginia could also help patients in neighboring states by passing the medical marijuana bill. Right now, medical marijuana has been legalized in only three Southern States - Arkansas, Florida and Louisiana. All three of them began allowing medicinal use in 2016. So by approving medical marijuana, West Virginia would increase the legalization movement's momentum in the South and perhaps help persuade states like Texas and Georgia to get onboard with reform.
Banner Image: View of the Trout Run Valley from Tibbet Knob, in George Washington National Forest, West Virginia (Jon Bilous/Shutterstock)