Update: Rollout of medical marijuana legislation in W.Va.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Gov. Jim Justice has signed a bill that makes West Virginia the 29th state to allow the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions.

Justice signed the bill Wednesday at the state Capitol in Charleston.

The law lets doctors prescribe cannabis for patients who are terminally ill or who have seizures, cancer, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, AIDS and other specified conditions. It will license plant growers, processors and dispensaries for cannabis in pills, oils, topical gels, liquids and a form that can be vaporized.

The state Bureau of Public Health will oversee implementation of the law. Patient identification cards could be issued starting in July 2019.

"For so many people, cannabis can be a gateway back from opioid addiction and if somebody can use cannabis to treat chronic pain, they may never need that first Oxycotin or Percocet, so this is something that can really address the opiate epidemic," said Matt Simon, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project.

The law doesn't authorize the sale of cannabis for smoking and patients can't grow their own plants.

UPDATE: 4/4/17 1:43 P.M.

A bill that would allow patients with certain debilitating conditions to access medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it was approved by the West Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday. SB 386 passed 76-24 on third reading after being revised on second reading.

“The Legislature has answered the prayers of many seriously ill West Virginians and their families,” said Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project, who is a West Virginia native and graduate of West Virginia University. “This could be life-saving legislation for some patients. We commend House members for working diligently to make sure it passes this year, but we urge the Legislature to continue efforts to make sure the program truly works for the seriously ill and to ensure it does not unnecessarily drive up costs.”

SB 386 was originally introduced by Sen. Richard Ojeda (D-Logan) in the Senate, where it was approved 28-6 last week. The House version of the bill, which is titled the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, would charge the Bureau of Public Health with regulating medical marijuana growers, processors, and dispensaries, while the Senate version would set up a 16-member independent commission. Under the amended House bill, patients with specifically listed qualifying medical conditions could use extracts, tinctures, and other preparations of marijuana, but not marijuana in flower or leaf form. This differs from the Senate version of the bill and most of the other state medical marijuana programs.

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted effective medical marijuana laws, and 18 states have adopted medical marijuana laws that are ineffective because they are either unworkable or exceptionally restrictive. West Virginia is one of only four states in the nation that has not adopted any form of medical marijuana law.

UPDATE 4/3/17 8:50 A.M.

A medical marijuana bill will likely be voted on Tuesday in the West Virginia House of Delegates.

The vote follows some serious debate about amendments to the version of the bill already passed by the Senate.

On Monday, House members voted in favor of what many of the original bill's advocates are calling a more-restrictive plan.

The amendment would require the State's Bureau of Public Health to oversee medical marijuana in the state, and it would also ban patients from growing their own, among other things.

The vote was made mostly on party lines with many Republicans, who are against the measure, all voting in favor of the more-strict regulation.

One amendment rejected in the House would have meant a person who had permission to use medical marijuana would have lost their gun rights.

If this bill is passed in the House, it would have to go back to the Senate for approval.

The West Virginia Senate advanced a bill Thursday that would allow some patients access to medical marijuana under certain circumstances.

Senate Bill 386 was approved by a 28-6 vote, with Republicans Mike Azinger of Wood County and Donna Boley of Pleasants County among those voting against the measure.

The proposal would create a 16-member panel to oversee the program and issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. The panel would include medical professionals, law-enforcement officials and government agency representatives.

The bill also would license plant growers, processors and dispensaries for products containing cannabis including food, tinctures, aerosols, oils or ointments.

The bill will now be considered in the West Virginia House of Delegates.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, West Virginia is one of only six states that has not adopted any form of medical-marijuana law.

The organization says 28 states have enacted laws that it considers effective, while 16 other states have laws that it calls unworkable or too restrictive.

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