CHARLESTON, W. Va. (April 20, 2017) – Yesterday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill that creates a limited medical marijuana program. The new law takes a step toward nullifying federal marijuana prohibition in practice within the state.
Sen. Richard Ojeda (D – Logan) sponsored Senate Bill 386 (SB386), along with 11 bipartisan co-sponsors. The new law creates a structure setting up a limited medical marijuana program in the Mountain State.
Patients with certain medical conditions will be able to access medical marijuana in the form of pills, oils, gels, creams, ointments, tinctures, liquid, and non-whole plant forms for administration through vaporization. It bans smoking marijuana and prohibits patients from growing their own. It also imposes hefty fees on growers, processors and dispensaries.
The law is similar to the limited programs in place in Minnesota and New York, and currently being implemented in Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Ohio. As passed, the new law creates a restricted program.
The Marijuana Policy Project has produced a detailed breakdown of the bill’s provisions.
The Senate initially passed SB386 by a 28-6 vote on March 29. After significantly amending the bill, the House approved the measure 76-24 on April 4. The Senate concurred with the amendments a few days later by a 28-6 vote. The new law will go into effect in stages, with bulk of the provisions effective immediately. Medical marijuana cards will become available in the summer of 2019.
Ojeda told the West Virginia Gazette the bill was “way better than nothing.”
“It’s not devastating — not bad at all,” he said. “It’s still a good bill.”
Activists in the state reportedly already have plans to build on the foundation created by SB386. Ojeda said he hopes to amend the law next year to allow low income patients to grow their own marijuana.
Even though the new West Virginia medical marijuana program has limitations and takes just a first step, even the tiniest movement forward legalizing marijuana defies federal law.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
The West Virginia medical marijuana program partially removes one layer of law prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state, but federal prohibition remains in place.
Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
While West Virginia’s medical marijuana program does not alter federal law, it takes a step toward nullifying in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing the state laws, West Virginia would remove some of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
West Virginia joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have already legalized recreational cannabis, with California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts joining them after ballot initiatives passed in those state last November.
With 30 states now allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more.
“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
The provisions of the new law will go into effect in the following phases:
(a) Unless excepted in subsection (b) or (c), the provisions of this act shall be effective upon passage.
(b) The provisions defining criminal offenses criminal and penalties will become effective July 4, 2017.
(c) Notwithstanding any provision of this chapter to the contrary, no identification cards may be issued to patients until July 1, 2019. The Bureau may take sufficient steps through rule to implement the preliminary provisions in preparation for implementation of the provisions of this act.
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