Medical Marijuana has been stirring up quite a debate nationwide for the past few years. As it stands right now, 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized some form of the drug, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, and most recently West Virginia. However, even though the bill has passed, it doesn't mean the fight is over.
Cindy Minton, a mom of three from Cameron, said medical marijuana may be the last hope for her son, Morgan, 20. Morgan was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 12-years-old. He was taken to the hospital for a severe respiratory infection, and was admitted. When he was getting ready to leave, he had his very first seizure.
Within seconds, Cindy said 15 to 20 doctors were rushing in the room. "The scariest moment of my life, I will never forget it. I will never forget the way he looked," she said. At the time, doctors told her they thought it was just an isolated incident. One week later he had his second seizure.
When it first happened, Morgan had one or two seizures every couple of weeks. Cindy said he has them more than ever now.
Day-to-day life requires Morgan to have constant supervision. "It's not a matter of if he's going to have a seizure, it's when," Cindy said. Taking a shower, walking up the steps, even sleeping require someone to be around Morgan constantly. "Everything that we take for granted every day, it's a safety risk for him," she said.
Morgan has suffered multiple head injuries and a lot of bruises from the seizures he has been having for eight years. One time, he had a seizure that lasted for more than five minutes. Typically, Cindy said they last between one or two minutes. She also said there is no way to tell Morgan is going to have one, sometimes, she has noticed he will have a mood swing earlier in the day, so she knows to be alert.
After trying out 12 different seizure medications, and finding out the hard way he is allergic to six of them, even developing Stephen Johnson Syndrome, which caused blisters all over his body, she is afraid they are running out of options. Some of the medications made Morgan withdraw from his family and school, others have turned things around - but they only work for a certain period of time.
"His body will build a tolerance to this, and eventually we will be left with nothing," Cindy said. That is why she is an advocate for medical marijuana in West Virginia. She said it potentially means Morgan could get back to his day-to-day living.
Delegate Shawn Fluharty, a Democrat from Ohio County, has been a big proponent of medical marijuana throughout his time in the legislature. He said he's pleased the bill passed, but the fight isn't over yet. "We didn't get the final bill out the way I wanted it to come out, but still, it's a starting point, it will help a lot of people who are currently suffering," Fluharty said.
In the bill's current form, medical marijuana goes from a schedule one drug - the same classification as heroin - to a schedule four, which means doctors will be allowed to prescribe it.
In West Virginia, like neighboring Pennsylvania and Ohio, patients would not be allowed to smoke medical marijuana. It must be used as a pill, vapor, or as a liquid. "And this is a way to help people, we're talking about our veterans, we're talking about those who may be suffering from cancer and going through chemotherapy, and we're talking about our youth, our children, who are possibly suffering from epilepsy," Fluharty said.
Senator Ryan Weld, a Republican in the second district of West Virginia, voted against the bill, citing the federal law. "Via the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution, that law, or any law that any state has with medical marijuana or full recreational use, is illegal, per the federal government," Weld said.
Senator Weld used the following example: if someone goes to buy a gun at Cabela's, there is a section on the application about drugs - including drugs used for medicinal purposes. If the person lies on the form, it's a federal offense. If they tell the truth, would they be allowed to purchase the firearm?
It's clear the decision on medical marijuana could have a large ripple effect on existing laws and regulations in the state.
"But at the end of the day, it's still illegal per the federal government and when we have issues, Constitutional issues with it, I mean it could be a major problem," Weld said.
And many people are wondering: what about the drug abuse epidemic across the country, and especially in West Virginia? Delegate Fluharty said states who enact similar medical marijuana bills see a 27% decrease in drug overdose deaths. "Right now we have a situation where people are walking out of pharmacies with tons of pills in their hands, and getting addicted, and then it turns into a heroin epidemic because that's what they're getting hooked on next."
Fluharty said if there is one thing we need to be doing in West Virginia, it is getting people off of prescription pills and getting them back to work. He said the bill is a step in the right direction. "Because now instead of being hooked on pills, we have people being prescribed something that's less addictive, very much non-addictive, you can't die from it, but nobody's overdosing from marijuana. Good luck finding someone who has," he said.
Cindy said she encourages people not to look at the stigma attached to marijuana. "I never once thought when I was growing up 'Oh, yes. I am going to give my kid marijuana.' Never once. I would've told you you're crazy, it's not happening. But when you watch your kid or your loved one suffer every single day, it's something you have to... You indulge it. You have to think about it," she said.
"I am a firm believer that any patient, any person in the United States, no matter what state you live in, you should have it medically available to you. The recreational part, they can figure that out later, take all the time you want, take ten years. But medically, everybody has the right to have a better quality of life. That's what it's about," Cindy concluded.
It will still take at least two years in West Virginia to enact the bill as the rules and regulations are being made. In Pennsylvania, the law will go into effect in early 2018, and in Ohio it should be in effect in September 2018.