Medical Marijuana in West Virginia
by Harley Wince
In a state where the rate of opioid overdoses has increased by 16.9% and where 41.5 of every 100,000 people has overdosed, West Virginia has been begging for a solution to an epidemic. Bipartisan supporters of Senate Bill 386 believe they have found the answer.
Signed into law by Governor Jim Justice on April 17, 2017, Senate Bill 386 legalized medical marijuana in West Virginia, making this the 29th such state to legalize medical marijuana. The law allows patients to receive a medical card to treat 16 chronic illnesses, including terminal illness, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and HIV/AIDS, among others. To acquire a medical marijuana card, West Virginians will have to pay a $50 fee and get written permission from their doctor, with approval from the Board of Public Health. With this comes further limitations; for example, the qualifying patient may only use marijuana in the form of pills, oils, a topical, a liquid, a dermal patch, with a vaporizer, or tinctures. Patients are not allowed to smoke or grow the plant. The medical cards won’t begin being issued until July 1, 2019.
The passing of Senate Bill 386, considered a huge success by many, had quite an arduous journey to the senate floor. Jesse Johnson, chair of the Mountain Party, came into the fight for legalization, initially, as the lead lobbyist for the “Free the Plant” initiative. Eventually, he became executive director of West Virginia NORML, a state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. As lead lobbyist, he coordinated with the House and Senate members to try to pass the bill. Several years later, despite being under a primarily GOP-run government, Johnson was able to introduce the bill into both the House and Senate. Eventually that particular bill was killed, but Johnson kept up the fight to legalize medical cannabis.
“The Bill 386 that was passed, most citizens don’t understand that this bill was not the bill that was introduced by Senator [Richard] Ojeda…when I came in, they had hit a roadblock, and Senate was not putting in on the agenda. However, we had it on the agenda two years prior. It had been stripped from the agenda, so I went back to the Senate president, who had been a champion of it from the beginning. He really stepped up to the plate with a lot of encouragement to take the risk to do that. Across the Capitol, the Speaker of the House had stated that never on his watch and over his dead body would a bill like this be passed, so I knew it had to be done.”
Despite what seems like an arduous fight for the mere “Average Joe,”Johnson is adamant that anyone can get involved to make an impact in their government. He encourages voters to be in contact with their legislators. “If their representatives voted for it, citizens need to call and thank them profusely and request that they get behind its improvement and expansion. And for the ones who did not vote for it, they need to be informing them that they either get on board or get ready to be replaced, and obviously their time and experience in the state house is coming to an end. Aside from that, we need to continue encouraging the governor to free the plant.”
When asked about his faith in the future of West Virginia, Johnson remains hopeful, just as long as we continue to better ourselves and our state. “West Virginia has this bold opportunity to step out in the forefront and become the destination point for the eastern US, and not just a destination point for the poor, the homeless, and people who are struggling.This one plant can save the state.”