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Mon Commission will likely weigh in on medical cannabis next week

MORGANTOWN — Will the Monongalia County Board of Health’s efforts to regulate medical cannabis dispensaries go up in smoke?

That answer could come as early as June 23 as members of the Monongalia County Commission said Wednesday that, based on the advice of legal counsel, it does have a mandate via West Virginia Code 16-2-11 (recently amended by Senate Bill 12) to either approve, disapprove or amend the May 27 action by the board of health within 30 days.

The matter was previously in question as the BOH’s local dispensary regulations are set to take effect June 26. Passage of the regulations came days before the June 2 effective date of SB 12, which gives elected officials — the county commission locally — oversight over board of health mandates.

The issue has been a hot topic since the BOH’s somewhat unexpected vote late last month to pass the regulations, which go beyond the stipulations put in place by the West Virginia Legislature.

Delegate John Williams, D-Monongalia, addressed that issue in asking the commission to strike down the additional regulations.

“Ever since there was a discharge motion in March of 2017 to have this issue brought to the floor so that the people’s representatives could vote on it, medical cannabis has been watered down at every single possible turn,” Williams said.

“It was frustrating to see at the state level, so I was frustrated to see, six months ago, that the board of health in my home county was, in my view, further watering it down and making it more difficult for the business to happen. It’s not a business issue. It’s a consumer issue.”

Williams’ arguments were in addition to some of the more commonly heard charges, in particular that the BOH overstepped its authority in creating burdensome rules that venture beyond public health and into areas like zoning and land use.

But Wednesday’s remarks weren’t all in opposition to the BOH’s efforts.

As he has previously, Dr. Jeremy Hustead spoke in favor of additional restrictions on medical cannabis, particularly as Monongalia County has been approved for 14 of the state’s 100 dispensary locations.

Hustead is the president of the West Virginia Society of Addiction Medicine and an assistant professor with the WVU School of Medicine.

He provided the commission with a letter including the names of six other local medical professionals representing the fields of psychiatry and behavioral medicine, pain management, addiction and pharmacy.

The letter claims that much like tobacco and alcohol before it, the focus being pushed by financially invested parties is on the perceived benefits of cannabis while ignoring any potential harms.

It also refutes the notion that medical cannabis will positively impact the state’s ongoing opioid crisis, and points out that cannabis does not require the same type of scrutiny as other drugs.

“The medicalization of marijuana is special interest-driven, not medically driven,” the letter states, adding, “Our board of health should be applauded and not condemned for having the courage to stand on their public health convictions.”

The commission scheduled a special work session for 4 p.m. June 17 to hash out the issue with the BOH.

“We have to understand we’re on the same team. It’s our board of health — that has just done a yeoman’s job in leading us through this pandemic — and we want to simply make sure we understand where we each are, then take actions appropriately,” Commission President Sean Sikora said.

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