West Virginia Republican Senate majority leader pushing for legalizing medical marijuana

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CHARLESTON, West Virginia — The second-ranking Republican state senator is pushing to make medical marijuana legal in West Virginia.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael filed a bill Monday to allow marijuana use for patients with debilitating health conditions.

The Jackson County Republican said he previously had opposed medical marijuana, but has since been convinced of its legitimate value as a therapeutic medicine.

The bill says scientific studies since 1999 have shown marijuana's medical importance for a variety of conditions.

"I think it's just wrong, and it's uncompassionate, to not provide a treatment mechanism for the people who have legitimate needs," Carmichael told reporters Monday.

The Compassionate Use Act for Medical Cannabis lists more than a dozen conditions that would warrant a marijuana prescription. Some include cancer, HIV and AIDS, Crohn's disease, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

Others include proneness to seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and addiction to opiates or amphetamines. The bill lets state health officials add other conditions.

Carmichael said he still opposes legalizing marijuana for recreational uses, however.

"I am 1,000 percent against that," Carmichael said. "There is not a single thread in my body that wants to legalize or decriminalize this."

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, has also signed onto the proposal as a sponsor. Monday was the last day to file bills in the state Senate.

Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., have comprehensive medical marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Another 11 states have approved limited medical marijuana bills that loosen access to extracts from strains of marijuana with low THC and high levels of cannabidiol.

In other states, lawmakers have recently changed their tune after seeing public support for medical marijuana.

In Florida, a 2014 medical marijuana constitutional amendment received about 58 percent of the vote, but needed 60 percent to pass under state law.

Now, Republican lawmakers are moving forward with bills to legalize medical marijuana. Florida Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who opposed the ballot measure, is one sponsor.

Some law enforcement associations have opposed medical marijuana proposals in other states.

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