At least one member of the House of Delegates wants Gov. Jim Justice to call a special legislative session to revisit the state’s medical marijuana law.
During the just-completed regular session, the House proposed a measure, House Bill 4345, to revise the original medical marijuana bill passed by the Legislature in 2017.
When House Bill 4345 got to the state Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee made some major changes, including adding language that would lead to allowing patients to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes. (Patients are not allowed to smoke medicinal marijuana under the 2017 bill.)
But the House never took the Senate amendment to House Bill 4345 on the final day of the session Saturday.
The Senate amendment to the bill also would have corrected a major flaw in the original medical marijuana law, which would allow for licensing medical marijuana growers, processors and dispensaries around the state.
On March 1, state officials received a letter from Treasurer John Perdue saying the treasurer’s office would be unable to handle banking transactions necessary for implementing the medical marijuana program because of conflicting federal and state law.
“We have learned that the acceptance of funds surrounding all activities related to cannabis, even activities that are state-sanctioned, is a complicated issue,” Perdue wrote.
The Senate amendment to House Bill 4345 would have allowed the state to bypass the normal bidding process and set up a special credit union to handle banking transactions related to medical marijuana. Some lawmakers in favor of House Bill 4345 fear that failure of the measure will put the brakes on the medical marijuana program, at least until next year.
The state Bureau of Public Health, headed by state Chief Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta, is in charge of implementing the medical marijuana program. Gupta “is evaluating our options with the director of the Office of Medical Cannabis,” according to bureau spokesman Toby Wagoner.
But Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, thinks the problems with House Bill 4345 can be fixed quickly if Justice calls a special legislative session to revisit the measure. Pushkin was one of the sponsors of the bill and is a major supporter of the medical use of marijuana.
“There are banks and credit unions that will do business with this program,” Pushkin said. “Twenty-eight or 29 other states are doing this.”
Pushkin said being able to handle financial transactions “is the most important issue we need to address that I don’t think should wait until next session.”
“I think this is worthy of a special session,” he said. “We can go back and fix this in one day.”
Pushkin conceded that it costs the state about $35,000 a day to hold a special legislative session. But he said the cost of a single marijuana grower’s license is $50,000, which would more than make up for the expense.
Pushkin said he is asking people to call the governor and ask him to call a special session to deal with medical marijuana.