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Over-60 group urges drug law changes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Silver-Haired Legislature, a group of over-60 pseudo-legislators, approved position papers on Friday that support relaxing marijuana laws while also tightening laws related to methamphetamine.

After a three-day session in Charleston in legislative chambers at the state Capitol, the group proposed legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana. They also proposed requiring a prescription to purchase cold medications that contain pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in manufacturing methamphetamine.

 "I was pleased with what we did," said Silver-Haired House of Delegates Speaker George Moore of South Charleston, who has been a member for three years. "We cannot write laws or pass legislation. But we can write position papers. This time, most politicians were interested in our activities. I am tickled to death about it."

The West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services helps coordinate the election of Silver-Haired legislators, who must be 60 or older.

The Silver-Haired legislature, which began in 1981, passed a position paper urging that marijuana be legalized and taxed and that proceeds go towards drug-rehabilitation programs and reforming the prison system.

The position paper points out that, "20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes since 1996, and these laws do not appear to have caused any serious social problems. Voters in Colorado and Washington State took the next step in 2012 and made marijuana legal for all adults 21 and over."

Moore said it is easier for Silver-Haired legislators to pass position papers than it is for the real state Legislature to pass laws.

"We can do this kind of thing without having to deal with the lobbyists," he said on Friday.

The position paper about marijuana approved on Friday points out: "In many cases, it is a more effective and less dangerous option than pharmaceutical drugs.

"The proposed reform would make it possible for adults battling illnesses to access marijuana safely and legally, without having to deal with an illicit market dominated by criminals."

Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, has been urging the West  Virginia Legislature to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

"The Silver-Haired Legislature's bill is for the decriminalization of all marijuana, not just medical marijuana. They applied the same taxing of the product that we have proposed to fight substance abuse through treatment and drug prevention programs," Mannypenny said.

Manypenny was one of the speakers invited to address the Silver-Haired Legislature in Charleston last week.

"I am very encouraged by their forward thinking and their progressive stance on this, because this reaches all spectrums of society. I really enjoyed speaking to them," Manypenny said.

"I have talked to law enforcement officers about this. Three out of ever four law officers had no problem with legalizing medical marijuana. I have also been getting some phone calls from pastors and ministers supporting our legislation."

The Silver-Haired Legislature also passed mock legislation that would make cold and allergy medications containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in methamphetamine, available by prescription only.

"I was particularly pleased with that, since our state has a terrible problem with drugs," Moore said.

He said the Sudafed bill was "a counterbalance to legalizing marijuana, which is certainly not as bad as alcohol and tobacco."

Pseudoephedrine is an ingredient in medications like Sudafed, Allegra D and Claritin-D that relieve sinus pressure related to colds, allergies and other sinus problems.

Clandestine meth labs in the state and throughout the nation -- often operating in apartments and homes with many neighbors living nearby - create toxic fumes and can cause fires and explosions.

"Controlling access to a critical ingredient in methamphetamine production could go a long way," the Silver-Haired Legislature's position paper states, "toward protecting West Virginia children and innocent adults who are now exposed by the thousands to the potentially deadly effect of meth labs and manufacturing."

The Silver-Haired Legislature also approved a position paper to make organ donations automatic, unless a deceased person had previously registered not to become an organ donor.

Today, West Virginians must specifically sign up to become organ donors.

"About 90 percent of Americans say they support organ donations, but only about 30 percent actually get around to volunteering," the position paper states.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services reports an average of 79 state residents receive organ transplants every day, while another 18 people die waiting for organs that never became available for their needed transplants.

Today, there are more than 118,000 people in the country who are on organ transplant waiting lists. Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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