The West Virginia Legislature passed a bill three years ago legalizing the use of medical marijuana. But that law has never really taken effect.

For a couple of years, the problem seemed to be finding a bank that would accept funds appropriated for the program. No bank in the state appeared to be willing to participate. Many speculated that this was because the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia has made it clear that he will prosecute any marijuana case he can find.

Federal law still prohibits the use of marijuana in the Mountain State, for any purpose, even medical. Other states that have legalized medical marijuana haven’t had this problem, but this particular U.S. Attorney seems to be more adamant about marijuana than most.

After much searching and persuading, State Treasurer John Perdue found a credit union that would take deposits for the program. So that problem was eliminated. But there are other problems.

When the bill was passed, an “advisory council” of health professionals was created. However, that advisory council was prevented from advising the State Bureau for Public Health on questions related to medical marijuana. And medical doctors were required to take extra courses, just to be able to prescribe marijuana to their patients. Strange, eh? This year, a bill passed the Senate correcting those problems.

Up in Smoke

But the Republican leadership of the House of Delegates used several parliamentary moves to kill that bill. First, the chair of the committee to which it had been assigned refused to put it on the agenda. That’s his right, under the rules by which the Legislature operates. But those rules also provide that if enough members of the committee demand it, a bill must be placed on the committee’s agenda. All ten of the Democrats on the 25-member committee joined with enough Republicans to get the bill placed on the agenda. The committee approved it, so it went to the floor (the full House) for a vote.

That bill came to the floor on Thursday, March 5, the 58th day of the 60-day Regular Session. The state constitution requires that a bill be “read on three several days” before a final vote on its passage. The leadership tried to keep the bill from being read a first time on the day it was reported to the floor by the committee. By keeping it from being read a first time on the 58th day, the leadership would have effectively killed the bill.

But a Democrat made a motion that it be read a first time. I voted for that motion, along with all the other Democrats. We were joined by enough Republicans that the motion passed. That proved to be the only vote on the bill. On the last day of the session, the leadership took the bill off of the active calendar and placed it on the non-active calendar. Their third parliamentary move succeeded in killing the bill.

The only other bill relating to medical marijuana was a supplementary appropriations bill, which allocated money for various programs in the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), including the medical marijuana program. I and 10 other Democrats voted against that bill.

I did so because I’m dissatisfied with the way DHHR has managed several programs, particularly the medical marijuana program. I’m not alone in this dissatisfaction. The bill passed, but had it failed, the money would have been appropriated anyway, in the Budget Bill. So I had no qualms about sending DHHR a message.

In an interesting irony, the medical marijuana “policy” bill was numbered 752, while the appropriations bill was given the number 572. This happenstance has caused some confusion.

 

Mr. Doyle represents Jefferson County in the WV House of Delegates—District 67.

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