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Morgantown Council letter asks the board of health to move on cannabis

MORGANTOWN — Much like Star City and Westover before it, the city of Morgantown will ask the Monongalia County Board of Health to move the 21 medical cannabis dispensary permits pending before it on to the state for consideration without additional restriction or delay.

Morgantown City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a letter to County Health Officer Lee Smith and the BOH asking the board to stop its ongoing effort to implement dispensary regulations beyond what’s established in state code.

The proposed BOH regulations have drawn criticism for including added restrictions on where dispensaries can be located and spelling out various planning and land use requirements — down to the number of dedicated parking spaces needed.

A draft of the letter introduced by Mayor Ron Dulaney points out that Morgantown has had planning and zoning in place for cannabis dispensaries since Fall 2018.

“We’ve already gone through all of this — where we want to have these and where we don’t,” Councilor Barry Wendell said. “I think it is beyond what the health department is allowed to do to say ‘You can’t have it here or you can’t have it there.’  We’ve already dealt with that.”

It was also pointed out that time is of the essence.

While the BOH’s draft regulations are out for public comment, Monongalia County is the last county in the state to get movement on the permits from its BOH — even as the state begins the process of selecting the 100 dispensary locations.

While Deputy Mayor Rachel Fetty said she would not be in favor of a letter opposing the BOH’s authority to regulate dispensaries, she said the regulations being considered are too broad and too late.

“I’m not in favor of the regulations’ timing. I’m not in favor of the entirety of the content, but if we could somehow acknowledge the importance of the health department making health-related regulations,” Fetty said, adding “But these regulations are late in the process and people can be hurt by that.”

The BOH will hold a special meeting on the regulations at 9 a.m. Thursday. Information on how to join the virtual meeting can be found at the MCHD website.

In other city news, council approved on first reading a budget amendment putting just over $1 million in CARES Act funds to use.

Interim City Manager  Emily Muzzarelli explained that the city has received just over $6.9 million in COVID-19 relief, or CARES Act, money thus far. That number doesn’t include just over $1 million approved for the city for the month of September.

If ultimately adopted by council, the  amendment will undo some of the cost cutting measures implemented by the city earlier this year when COVID-19 prompted a $3 million cut to the city’s spending plan.

For example, cost of living raises will be reinstated for city employees. The city will also honor its full budgeted allocations to Mountain Line, BOPARC and the public library system. Some raises and position changes previously frozen will also be reinstated as part of the budget amendment.

The money will also fund a new position within the Morgantown Police Department.

“One of the things that has come up and something that I’ve been looking into quite a bit is funding some type of new position within our police department — either some kind of social worker or street outreach person — and that is to assist us with some kind of mental crisis response or assist us with our homeless population,” Muzzarelli said. “The details of that position aren’t exactly worked out.”