For the past three years, Delegate Mike Manypenny virtually stood alone in a one-man crusade to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, often incurring the scorn of fellow West Virginia lawmakers. No one is laughing any more, at least not to his face. And come Wednesday, his proposal for allowing the chronically ill to use marijuana for pain relief is going before a legislative panel on the final leg of September interims.
“I think it’s probably going to be standing room only,” says Manypenny, a Democratic delegate who represents Taylor County in District 29. It could be a long time to stand. Unlike most interims meetings, this one — before the Joint Committee on Health — is booked for two hours. One speaker is Karmen Hanson, the health program manager for the National Conference of State Legislatures, whose testimony will be fed via computer.
A second speaker lined up, this one in person, is Matt Simon, a Parkersburg native and West Virginia University graduate, now living in New Hampshire, who works exclusively with state legislatures as an analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, based in the nation’s capital. Manypenny remembers the frustration in the early days of his battle to get a bill before a committee, often hearing crude jokes aimed in his direction of the East Wing where delegates’ offices are located.
“I’m very excited,” he said. After talking with the committee’s chairs, Delegates Don Perdue, D-Wayne, and Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, his spirits were bumped up. “They seem very enthusiastic about it, which is very encouraging to me,” he said. “It’s been a long, hard process to educate everybody about what the potential this has to help the chronically ill patients in the state.”
Likely to be presented to the panel is the matter of a child in Colorado beset with seizures, about 300 a week, or, as Manypenny computed it, one every 40 minutes. “The little girl had a life-threatening form of epilepsy, and they tried everything,” he said. “Usually, children don’t survive past the age of 5 or 6 who have this. They go into seizures so often they’re almost in a comatose state. They had her on all kinds of medicines. Her heart stopped three or four times. The mother had to resuscitate her.
“Then someone suggested medical marijuana to the mother. So she said, ‘We’ve tried everything else. We have nothing to lose. It’s not like it’s going to hurt her any more than the medicines which are practically killing her.’” Under the child’s tongue was inserted a small amount of cannabis oil. The outcome? Her seizures plummeted to about one per week.
“Now the little girl is talking, playing,” Manypenny said. “It brought tears to your eyes when you watched the video.” While Manypenny has long held out hope his bill can be put into the hands of the full House, admittedly he was surprised with how much steam it has gathered of late.
“It just made so much sense after doing the research and seeing how the other states have done it, and how much other people have benefited from it,” he said. “Looking at it from a practical standpoint, I realized that West Virginia is usually 20 years behind other states in progressive issues like this. I’ve stuck with it, even though in previous years, I won’t say I was tormented, but I had comments, people made snide remarks.”
Now, he detects a marked attitude change. “I see three or more legislators in the halls, put my arms around them, say, ‘Let’s talk about medical marijuana,’ and they talked and it created a little debate. That ice breaker gave people more comfort and more ease to discuss it. The more people talked about it, the more I think they see it as just a common thing.”
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