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Commission hears concerns over cannabis dispensary permits

The Monongalia County Board of Health was advised by legal counsel secured on its behalf by the Monongalia County Commission that the kind of regulations it is considering for medical cannabis dispensaries “was out of the lane of the health department.”

Commissioner Sean Sikora explained as much  Wednesday, as the 21 medical cannabis dispensary permits pending before the Monongalia County Board of Health dominated the weekly commission session.

Sikora also explained that the health department has subsequently hired its own counsel, which provided conflicting advice. 

Of the 35 counties to receive applications for dispensary permits, Monongalia County is the only county with a  board of health that has yet to take action — 33 gave approvals, one denied.

Now, with a nebulous deadline thought to be about a month away, the board of health has put out a fairly extensive draft of regulations for 30-day public comment. 

The draft regulations are available in the Monongalia County Clerk’s Office.

 The regulations have come under fire by some as going far beyond state regulation in setting up additional restrictions on where dispensaries can be located and delving into issues that are “de facto zoning,” according to Mark Nesselroad, one of Wednesday’s speakers.

Nesselroad’s son, Mark J. Nesselroad, said the regulations as presented would eliminate about half of the 21 applicants before the board of health, which brings up another reoccurring question.

Who wrote them?

The MCHD has yet to respond to multiple requests for information on the origin of the regulations.

Commissioner Tom Bloom said he’s received conflicting information about where the regulations came from.  

“The regulations that were initially proposed, was written by one of the applicants,” Bloom said, later explaining that he was also told the regulations came directly from one of the board of health members.

Bloom said he believes the board wants to do the right thing, “but in my opinion, is clearly misguided.”

“The rules and regulations being proposed by the BOH goes beyond the power and authority of the local county health department,” Bloom said, noting that taxpayers have now paid for two legal opinions and would likely be left holding the bill for any resulting lawsuits.

 In order to get a permit before the board of health, a potential dispensary had to prove in February that it had a location under option that was not in violation of any existing zoning, be it in the county or a municipality.

“It’s important to note that these sites cannot now be changed at the state level. The board of health for months has been sitting on all the dispensary applications and is now putting out regulations for public comment until the first of November,” the elder Nesselroad said. “All the while, the state is moving forward in reviewing applications and will not wait for Monongalia County.”

Letters from the town of Star City and the Morgantown Area Partnership urged the board to move the applications on to the state.

As did Delegate Evan Hansen, who “strongly urged” the board to move, explaining, “I further question whether it’s even legal for a local board of health to issue a multi-page ordinance like we have before us today when the legislature has already set up a regulatory structure.”

He pointed to issues like on-site medical professionals, which were specifically taken up and removed by the legislature but appear in the county’s draft ordinance.

Hansen went on  to say that medical cannabis isn’t simply an economic opportunity, but an issue of compassion.

“Unless the board of health moves very quickly, we’re not going to have any medical cannabis dispensaries in Mon County. That means people who need the relief medical cannabis can provide will not be able to get it locally,” he said.

 While there is no decision pending before the commission,  President Ed Hawkins has not participated in the conversation due to a potential conflict involving a property lease.

The Nesselroads represent Black Diamond Realty, which is working with both potential dispensary property owners.

In other county news, the county’s tax lien sale for delinquent 2019 property taxes will be held at 9 a.m.  Nov. 2 on the second floor of the Monongalia County Sheriff’s building.

 In order to avoid the sale, all 2019 property taxes must be in the tax office by 5 p.m.  Oct. 30. Online payments will be cut off at 5 p.m.

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