CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Day 60 of the regular legislative session generated conflict before the House of Delegates floor session even started, as legislative leaders pulled a medical marijuana bill off the active calendar.
The move angered Democrats who have been pushing for the bill, but Republicans said the bill has too many concerns to handle on the final day.
The undercurrent seemed likely to affect the floor session up until midnight when the House of Delegates adjourns. Democrats began this morning’s floor session by objecting to dispensing with the reading of the daily journal.
Senate Bill 752 was one of just a handful of bills up for passage today in the House.
S. B. 752 a variety of adjustments to a medical marijuana law the Legislature passed in 2017.
The bill was pulled from the agenda by the House Rules Committee, which is made up of legislative leaders from both parties who meet before floor sessions to serve as traffic cops for what bills make the day’s active agenda and which ones are pulled. The Rules Committee doesn’t get a lot of attention but it is a public meeting.
There were two substitutions this morning in the Rules Committee lineup. That’s not totally unusual, but it’s notable. Delegates Vernon Criss and Jeffrey Pack, both Republicans, were subbed in for Gary Howell and Jordan Hill, also Republicans.
The vote was 12-8.
Here’s video of what happened.
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) March 7, 2020
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said he was frustrated by what happened.
“Incredibly disappointing that the medical cannabis act, which was approved by this body with overwhelming, bipartisan support in 2017 — it’s still not off the ground yet — and it’s because of obstructionist politics like this,” Pushkin said.
“That bill was simply an update to help get relief to patients sooner, so by that vote right there, Republican members of the House threw cancer patients under the bus, they threw people suffering from MS under the bus, they threw children who suffer from seizures under the bus. It’s incredibly disappointing.”
The bill, which had Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, as its lead sponsor, passed out of the Senate on Feb. 26.
It was assigned to House Judiciary, which didn’t act on it until late in the evening of March 5, two days ago. That committee passed it out without recommendation, which is uncommon.
This morning, Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, said members of the Republican majority still had too many questions about the details of the bill. Cowles is the speaker pro tem, the backup to run floor sessions when the speaker is away.
“There remains concern about that bill,” Cowles said.
He said the bill opens the door for public officials to be a participant in the medical marijuana licensing process as an owner.
“It’s struggling. There are serious concerns about that bill, myself included, and with some of my colleagues in the Republican caucus. There are serious problems with that bill that are ugly.
“There are a host of problems in that bill and, I think, too many to solve it on Day 60.”
Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, agreed. Espinosa is the majority whip, whose jobs is to get a handle on vote counts.
“This legislation emerged very late in the session with very little vetting,” Espinosa said. “In talking with our members, it became apparent that there were significant concerns about the legislation.”
He, too, made reference to aspects of the bill that could relax restrictions on who could hold licenses.
“That really was the case even with folks like myself who have voted for the medical cannabis legislation that we have. There were just many concerns that they just didn’t feel they could get resolved in the very limited amount of time we had remaining in this session.”