Government, Latest News, Monongalia County

Board approves 20 dispensary permits, will move ahead with county regulations

MORGANTOWN — A Thursday morning special session of the Monongalia County Board of Health resulted in approvals for 20 of the 21 medical cannabis dispensary permits pending before the body.

But that approval may be short-lived for some as a significant number of those approved permit sites — as many as 10 according to individuals following the process — will be in conflict with a more restrictive set of county guidelines currently in the works.

Asked if the board would grandfather in the locations approved on Thursday should they fall outside pending county regulations, BOH Chairman Sam Chico said, “No.”

“No. If they change the state law or regulation, they would have to comply. If we change or add an ordinance, they would have to comply,” Chico said.

The proposed county regulations will be posted at the Monongalia County Courthouse through Nov. 8 for public comment.

For now, the  board has  approved the permits based on the criteria provided in state code — essentially that the dispensaries cannot be within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare facility. One proposed location on Old Cheat Road was found to be within 1,000 feet of a daycare center and therefore denied.

Previously the state’s lone holdout regarding action on proposed dispensary locations, the Monongalia County Board of Health has come under increased pressure from municipalities, state and local elected officials and the business community to get the permits turned over to the West Virginia Office of Medical Cannabis, which will ultimately select up to 100 dispensary locations statewide.

Before the board voted up or down on each location, Monongalia County Health Officer Lee Smith took a moment to push back on some of the criticism, reminding those gathered for the remote meeting that public health has been pushed to the breaking point — undercut by continual budget cuts then called to be the front line against a global pandemic raging for the better part of a year now.

Even so, Smith said, the medical cannabis permits, which the MCHD received in June, were not going to get a rubber stamp as they did in many other counties.

“I believe it would be disingenuous to say that all counties are the same and, therefore, a blanket approval is all that is needed,” Smith said. “Don’t get it right, get it writ has never been the mantra of this health department or board of health.”

It was also explained that the BOH was simply approving permits for potential location sites based on existing state code, not endorsing the use of cannabis.

“The perception of cannabis for adults and adolescence has been, in recent years, perceived as non-harmful,”  BOH member Toni DiChiacchio said. “There’s nothing further from the truth. This can be a very harmful drug. I think that’s the role of public health, to inform the public for best use.”

Jason Frame leads the WV Office of Medical Cannabis. He said body is finishing up the process of selecting processor locations.

“As soon as that’s finished, we will move on to dispensaries. I do anticipate that process moving quickly. However, I cannot give an exact date of when we will release the dispensary permits,” he said, noting the state will simply publish a list of 100 permitted dispensaries once they have been selected.