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Speakers at public hearing advocate for medical marijuana use in WV

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The term ‘marijuana' is a red flag for some people, but for others the plant can provide relief for chronic pain.

That was what several people told lawmakers at a March 28 public hearing on House Bill 2961, the Compassionate Medical Marijuana Use Act of 2013. Several of the 13 speakers said they use marijuana in some form to relieve chronic pain, but they must do so in secret out of fear of getting caught.

"I am tired of feeling like a criminal for using a substance that provides relief for me and other (multiple sclerosis) patients," said Terry Lively.

Lively said she rode horses in competition, but once she suffered an injury that exacerbated her MS, she had to stop. She administered herself medical injections to help curb the pain, but she suffered side effects such as joint and muscle pain, nausea and headaches. She said prescription drugs "were overkill, leaving me drowsy and unfocused." That's when she discovered the medical benefits of marijuana.

"The medical marijuana keeps me feeling better mentally and physically," she told lawmakers.

Ken Rubidoux, who serves as editor-in-chief of Connotation Press and also works as a filmmaker, told lawmakers about his own experiences as a patient with frontal lobe epilepsy.

"What that means is at any given moment, my body decides someone else is driving the boat and I get to go on a little bit of a ride," he explained. "It's every bit as terrifying as you would expect."

After years of taking prescription medications that further exacerbated the issue, Rubidoux said two different doctors suggested he might benefit from medical marijuana. But he was hesitant.

"It was scary. I didn't want to be a pot head," he said.

But Rubidoux has been using medical marijuana for six years now and has discovered it hasn't impaired him at all.

"I started smoking marijuana six years ago now. It hasn't slowed me down much," he said. "I have some very successful things I'm involved in. I'm a functioning, taxpaying member of the state of West Virginia."

Although patients with chronic pain and other ailments could benefit from passage of the bill, so would the business community, Don Smith told the committee. Smith owns Greenview Group Limited, a commercial bamboo plant operation. Like Lively, Smith's wife suffers from MS, and Smith said she could benefit from the Compassionate Use Act. But as a business owner, he sees how the state as a whole could benefit.

"If you look at every single one of the free states and Washington, D.C., every one of those states has enjoyed a new wave of prosperity to come along with that compassion," he told the committee. "Every one of those states have a whole new tax base and reduction in incarceration rates and corrections costs."

No one who spoke at the meeting opposed the bill, which surprised bill sponsor Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor.

"The outpouring of support is far beyond what I expected," he said. "I really did expect some opposition today, but there has been overwhelming support."

Manypenny said some of his constituents have asked him for several years to sponsor such legislation. While he was hesitant at first, Manypenny said reading articles and seeing documentaries that detail the benefits of medical marijuana use showed him how people across the state could lead better lives.

"That was where the evolution of the West Virginia Compassionate Use Act came from," he said. "I was very hesitant at first; I thought it was a political killer. But the more I read, the more I researched, I decided this is the right thing to do."

House Bill 2961 currently is before the House Health and Human Resources Committee. However, in order to pass the Legislature, the House Health Committee must first approve it and the full House must pass the bill by April 3.