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Medical Marijuana Smoldering Issue in W.Va

WHEELING — Delegate Shawn Fluharty is skeptical medical marijuana will be available to West Virginia residents by the planned July 1 rollout date, and so is the State Office of Medical Cannabis.

A smoldering problem is that federally chartered banks in West Virginia are reluctant to accept any money derived from marijuana products for fear of breaking federal laws, although officials with the U.S. Attorney General’s Office have yet to prosecute for any of these transactions. As options, West Virginia could start its own bank to facilitate cannabis-related transactions, or the state could institute a system for payments to be made within a closed-loop network, according to an opinion by state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey released Jan. 11.

The West Virginia Legislature is considering legislation to solve the banking issue by using a network of banks. The measure is being first considered in the House of Delegates. Fluharty, D-Ohio, serves as minority vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

“Nothing will be ready until the proper legislation is passed,” Fluharty said. “Bills have been introduced for the banking fix and to implement the recommendations of the Office of Medical Cannabis. It’s imperative that these pieces of legislation pass this session. Even with passage, the July 1 goal is unlikely to be reached.”

Allison C. Adler, director of communications for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, provided a statement that also is available on the State Office of Medical Cannabis’ website.

“Without a process for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Public Health to accept and disburse funds related to applications for permits and fees associated with the implementation of the Medical Cannabis Act, and without funding for the program, the Bureau has not been able to proceed along the original timelines previously established,” the posting states. “Consequently, the program is still in the early stages of development. Much has been done to lay the groundwork for implementing the law, however there is more that still must happen both within DHHR and across the industry before a medical cannabis product can be made available.”

For example, the DHHR will need to inspect the operations of growers, processors and dispensaries before medical marijuana can go on the market in West Virginia.

Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, also is a member of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Banking and Insurance Committee. He said a bill addressing the financial issues of the medical marijuana program is to come before the Banking and Insurance Committee next week before it heads to the Judiciary Committee.

“I think the matter will be settled by the July 1 deadline,” he said.

In 2017, the West Virginia Legislature passed Senate Bill 386, permitting medical cannabis for certified medical use by a West Virginia resident with serious medical conditions. Under the law, the medical cannabis cannot come in dry leaf form for smoking purposes. It will be sold in pill, oil and topical forms including gels, creams or ointments. Also permitted are tinctures, liquids or a dermal patch.

There also are forms that are considered medically appropriate for administration by vaporization or nebulization. Home cultivation of marijuana by medical cannabis users is prohibited in West Virginia under the medical marijuana bill.

The law calls for patient identification cards to be issued to those with ailments meeting qualifications for use. Patients will be charged $50 for the identification card, but the charge can be waived under instances of financial hardship.

The state may issue as many as 10 permits to businesses seeking to be growers of medical marijuana; as many as 10 permits to those wishing to be processors of the cannabis; and as many as 30 dispensary permits. Medical marijuana will be considered as a medical drug by the state, and its users will not have to pay sales tax when purchasing it. There will, however, be a 10-percent tax on sales from growers/processors to dispensaries.

Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said the Senate will work off of whatever is first passed by the House, but that “always is subject to change.”

“It’s early in the session, and well before crossover day,” he explained.

Crossover day is the 50th day during the 60-day session, and the day by which bills must be passed out of their chamber of origin.

“Right now, we’re focusing on Senate bills,” Weld said.

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