CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Advocates and some doctors agree marijuana can alleviate symptoms of some medical conditions.
But the federal government doesn't, and that gives some West Virginia lawmakers pause when contemplating state legislation to legalize medical marijuana.
Explaining how states negotiate the situation played a central role in two presentations given Wednesday during a joint state Senate and House health committee meeting.
Karmen Hanson, a health policy expert with the National Conference of State Legislatures, and Matt Simon, a lobbyist and analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, presented ways other states have handled legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.
At the moment, the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug. That classification is reserved for substances that offer no medicinal benefits and have a high propensity for abuse, Simon said.
Twenty states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana for medical use, and President Barack Obama's administration has said it will not try to criminally prosecute people who follow the laws in that state. Still, the federal classification makes West Virginia lawmakers uneasy.
"I would like to see the feds get on board with us," said Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer.
"If the FDA were to say, 'Hey, there are some medical reasons to use this' and back us up, then I think (state legalization is) not an unreasonable thing."
Ellington, a physician, is the minority vice chairman of the House Health Committee.
Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, chairs the committee and sponsored a resolution calling for the study of medical marijuana legalization. After the hearing Wednesday he also said the federal stance, while frustrating, is a concern for some lawmakers.
That's why it's so important to learn what other states are doing and see if something similar could work for West Virginia, Perdue said.
Republican delegates Daryl Cowles of Morgan County and Kelli Sobonya of Cabell County asked about the classification. Taking it a step further, Sobonya postulated that states ignoring federal drug classifications could also open a door for states to ignore rules from the Environmental Protection Agency or aspects of the Affordable Care Act.
Federal drug experts have tried to change the classification in the past: Simon pointed to a 1988 ruling from a Drug Enforcement Agency official who favored reclassifying marijuana. The ruling was overturned, leading states to find their own solutions, Simon said.
Regulations in each of those states vary greatly, but Hanson said there are similar aspects in most states.
Each state sits on a regulation spectrum, Simon said. California is considered to have the fewest regulations. New Jersey, where patients are still not readily able to receive marijuana several years after it was legalized, might have too many regulations, Simon said.
An advocate and registered lobbyist, Simon believes West Virginia can find a happy medium.
Although some states use legalization as a way to make tax revenue, Simon said the focus should be on finding a way to help patients who can't find a suitable form of treatment. There are states that earn money from legalization, but the law is revenue neutral in many states, Simon said.
Ellington said he thought the two presentations were beneficial. He said he learned about strains of marijuana that had more of the drug's active medicinal ingredient and less of "THC," the active intoxicant in marijuana.