BLUEFIELD — The Mercer County Board of Health has reversed a previous board’s decision and approved the location of medical cannabis businesses in the county.
That means, pending any action by the Mercer County Commission that could lead to a voter referendum on the issue, two medical cannabis dispensaries that have applied to locate in the Bluefield area can do so.
Other related businesses, including growers and processors, have not yet applied through the state to locate here.
The board previously rejected giving permission to those businesses to locate in the county, but with three new board members and requests by City of Bluefield officials as well as Del. John Shott to reconsider that decision, the board reexamined the issue, gathered more information and this time approved.
Shott, who was instrumental in crafting an acceptable bill that passed in 2017 to allow the industry, spoke to the board recently and emphasized the treatment benefits of the drug as well as the strict parameters surrounding the regulations controlling it.
Mercer County has been the only county in the state to deny a request for businesses related to the industry to locate in a county.
Dr. Randy Maxwell, board chair, called Jason Frame, the state director of the medical cannabis program, to participate in Monday’s discussion during the board’s meeting.
Frame clarified some points, including state oversight of the industry, from growing the product to dispensing it.
Twenty-two other counties have already granted permission for the businesses, and one other has not yet made a decision, he said. Statewide, 31 counties have not yet had any requests for locating a medical cannabis related business so have not had a need to make a decision.
Rules include more than 30 testing parameters for safety and content, he said, and all of the product is traced from its source to dispensing.
That not only ensures the safety but also that no black market cannabis can enter the process.
Frame said insurance companies at this time do not pay for the medication, which must be prescribed by a physician who is licensed to do so. Medical cannabis is used to treat several medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma and post traumatic stress disorder.
The cost of the medication is averaging $200 to $300 a month around the country, he said, depending on the amount prescribed for the medical problem.
Frame also said only West Virginia residents can use the dispensaries but residents can cross county lines to fill prescriptions if they choose to do so, or need to.
Since the board has now approved the businesses, according to state code, the only way the decision could be rejected is for the county commission to “pass an ordinance by vote of the residents of the county to prohibit the operation or location of a medical cannabis organization within that particular county. A prohibition under this section shall remain in effect unless and until changed by a subsequent vote.”
Otherwise, approval rests solely with the board of health, Frame said.
Frame said medical cannabis related businesses will be able to be operational in the state in two weeks.
Bluefield City Attorney Colin Cline recently joined other city officials in making a formal request to the board to reverse that previous decision, and after the vote Monday he said the decision is good news.
“The City of Bluefield is pleased that the Board of Health has reversed its previous decision,” he said. “West Virginia’s medical cannabis law is an important and compassionate step forward in the availability of medical care in this state. The intent of the law is to enable those who can benefit from medical cannabis to be able to access this treatment under proper medical supervision. In addition to the availability of this treatment, we believe that, should a licensed medical cannabis organization locate in Bluefield, it will contribute to the economic growth that the City is experiencing. This is excellent news on multiple levels.”