Update medicinal marijuana rules

Two marijuana issues are on the agenda for West Virginia legislators this winter. One — whether to legalize the drug for recreational use — is and should be controversial. The other, regarding use of the plant’s active ingredient for medicinal purposes, is not open to reasonable argument.

Lawmakers already have enacted a measure intended to allow sale of THC, found in marijuana, to those who may benefit from it for health care reasons. Prescriptions from doctors will be required. That provides some assurance against abuse. Another safeguard is that the marijuana plant itself cannot be marketed; only the THC, perhaps in pill form, is permissible.

Sales were supposed to begin this summer, but a substantial obstacle lies in the way. It is the fact that sale of any form of marijuana, including THC remains illegal federally.

Of more specific concern are laws that ban financial institutions from handling money raised from sale of illegal substances.

Legislators requested and received an opinion from state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office, stating that federal law “makes it very difficult for medical marijuana businesses to operate in a way consistent with federal law …”

Difficult, but perhaps not impossible.

Thirty-three states permit sale of marijuana or its active ingredient for health care purposes. Many have found mechanisms through which the financial concern can be addressed.

State law on medicinal marijuana needs to be refined to pave the way for sale of the drug to those who may benefit from it.

And, though federal law clearly needs to be updated, too, a philosophy of benign and sometimes active tolerance of medicinal marijuana seems to prevail in Washington.

Perhaps the best route for state legislators to take is not to try to invent the perfect mechanism for addressing the banking question but, instead, to give state agencies the flexibility — within reasonable constraints — to build such a system themselves. Other states have done it. There is no reason we cannot.

Sale of marijuana for recreational purposes will be debated by lawmakers this year. That should not be allowed to stand in the way of enabling use of THC to help those who don’t want to get high — but view the drug only as a way to get by.