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Patients still waiting for medical cannabis

By Lexi Browning
For West Virginia Press

CHARLESTON — Following bipartisan support in both the House of Delegates and State Senate in 2017, the Medical Cannabis Act was signed into law in West Virginia with expectations the new industry would be up and running by July 2019.

Three years after its passage and coming up on a year after that expectation, patients in West Virginia are still waiting.

Through the Medical Cannabis Act, patients experiencing certain medical conditions such as cancer, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other chronic or terminal illnesses may be eligible to receive medical cannabis in pill, tincture, vape, patch or topical forms from physicians.

Two additional pieces of legislation passed in March and May 2019 rectified issues with the 2017 bill, including H.B. 2538, which laid the groundwork for medical cannabis banking services, and S.B. 1037, on “vertical integration,” meaning the same business can grow, process and dispense medical cannabis.

In 2018, H.B. 4159 proposed removing licensing limitation caps, and in 2019, H.B. 4567 proposed legalizing edible, dry flower and plant flower forms of cannabis for medicinal use. Neither bill advanced.

Since December, medical cannabis organizations applied for grower, processor and dispensary licenses with the Office of Medical Cannabis, a division of the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

According to Jason Frame, director of the Office of Medical Cannabis, the organization received license applications for 199 dispensaries, 44 growers, 41 processors and one laboratory. All application fees — $50,000 for growers and processors and $10,000 for dispensaries — were due March 3.

Frame said the reviewing process is still underway despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“The Office of Medical Cannabis continues to review applications and perform all other necessary functions by telework as advised by the governor,” Frame said. “OMC is currently reviewing Grower and Processor applications for completeness. The next step will be a 30-day period for applicants to submit additional information deemed necessary by OMC.”

The review is the second of eight steps outlined in the process, followed by notice of advancement, various approvals and permit issuance.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, which oversees the Medical Cannabis Act alongside the Bureau for Public Health and the OMC, the process may take up to six months, but a timeline for license issuance is not yet determined.

Kristee Montgomery, a nurse from Putnam County and owner of Appalachian Cannabis Co., is among the applicants awaiting notification of their status.

After witnessing the impacts of the opioid epidemic firsthand, Montgomery said she wanted to give patients an alternative medicine option. So she opened Appalachian Cannabis Co., a CBD-exclusive shop.

“We’ve been working with universities, and we have students that rotate in our storefronts,” Montgomery said. “We have the pharmacy students from several of the universities, as well as the medical students, and they basically do a rotation with us, and we’re able to teach them things they didn’t learn in school.”