House expands marijuana bill

WHEELING — West Virginia lawmakers believe the demand for medical marijuana in the state may exceed the number of permits allowed by the legislation they passed last year, so they are making adjustments.

On Wednesday, members of the House of Delegates voted 76-23 to make changes to the bill, greatly increasing the number of medical marijuana growers, processors and dispensaries to be permitted.

All Northern Panhandle delegates voted in favor of the changes, with the exception of delegates Roger Romine, R-Tyler, and Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock.

House Bill 4345 would increase the number of permits to be issued to growers from 10 to 50, provided they establish no more than two locations per permit.

The number of permits to marijuana processors would increase from 10 to 50. And the number of dispensaries allowed would jump from 30 to 165, with no more than five in any region.

The measure now moves on to the Senate.

Though passed in 2017, the law legalizing the use of medical cannabis won’t go into effect until July 2019. That’s when the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health starts to issue patient identification cards to those with ailments meeting qualifications for use.

Patients will be charged $50 for the identification card, but the charge can be waived under instances of financial hardship.

The cannabis prescribed to qualifying patients won’t come in a leaf form that can be smoked or ingested.

Instead, users will receive the drug in the form of pills, oils, gels, creams, ointments, tinctures, liquid and non-whole plant forms for administration via vaporization.

And the law approved by the West Virginia Legislature last year prohibits the home cultivation of marijuana by medical cannabis users.