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State medical marijuana license holders, many hailing from outside West Virginia, might have to wait on success.

There are 10 licensed growers and only three active, with 10 processors and 10 growers, to go along with 100 dispensary licenses. That’s the potential to generate a lot of legal weed. Trouble is, if growing began full force, supply would heavily outstrip demand, even now that two dispensaries will be open Monday in Morgantown and Weston.

Only 4,000 to 5,000 patients are registered and just 59 doctors have taken the required educational course enabling them to write “recommendations” for marijuana. The state’s population is slightly less than 1.8 million.

Most registrations have come from one-day seminars over the last few months. Those who can’t make the seminars are directed to the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ medical cannabis website.

This can be a problem for West Virginia’s elderly, who are likely to qualify for many of the stringent medical conditions required to get a card. They have trouble navigating online, if the rural terrain even allows for an adequate signal.

Of five browsers the state site supports, only two are classified as high performance — Chrome and Safari. The other “moderate” performers are Firefox, 1E Edge and 1E 11. “We are sorry for any inconvenience and thank you for understanding,” a message reads.

Fairly high up on the page, an underlined Patient Registration heading does not work. “How to Register” underneath yields nothing either.

Under those headings, however, text appears advising the seeker to review the list of qualifying medical conditions. That link works, as does one allowing the user find a list of registered physicians.

The site shows the 59 physicians participating in the program — about one for each county. The would-be patient is urged to schedule an appointment with one of the docs. A Telehealth exam is also available.

“Once you receive your Patient Certification form from the physician, apply for your medical cannabis card in the registration portal,” the site says. From there, the user must register for the dreaded account, trying usernames and passwords the machine may or may not fancy. “Click here to register now,” another link reads. It directs the user to the same page as the registration portal.

Perhaps it is not the site’s shortcomings but anonymity that has conspired to keep numbers down. It’s hard to say how many interested people know to go to the site, or how to find the registered list of doctors. Another link down the page, Registered Physicians, does not work, but clicking on a single word in the next sentence does.

Of the 59 registered physicians, only six are located in Kanawha County, the state’s most populous. Another six are in Cabell and a surprising eight in Raleigh County. That’s nearly half the count. The rest are peppered throughout the state.

Spencer’s Dave Heeter, who holds licenses for 10 dispensaries along with growing and processing permits, said applying for a card is “very confusing, yes, especially for older people.”

“People have been asking me questions,” he said. “‘Which physicians can write me a prescription? Do I have to turn my guns in to get a card?’

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Heeter is the only West Virginian possessing majority interest in a vertically integrated cannabis operation. He owns 60% of Tariff Labs, LLC.

“There’s not much incentive to get started fast with this limited an amount of patients,” Heeter said.

Heeter said he trusts that as more and dispensaries come online, registrations will pick up.

There may be one ally in the slow trudge, Kevin Waugh said. It’s called Green Health Docs, a nationwide group of doctors known to do referrals to states’ cannabis offices.

Waugh first approached his family doctor, who said his employer would not allow him to write a referral.

Armed with his medical records, a video conference appointment and $195 fee, Waugh obtained a referral from Green Health Docs to West Virginia’s program, where he paid by check a $75 license fee. He suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory condition which causes the spine to hunch forward.

Waugh, 43, will manage three dispensaries for Compiler Wellness LLC, a multi-state organization. Two will be in Kanawha County and one in Cabell. If Green Health Docs begins to generate rapid referrals for the Office of Medical Cannabis, more growers might be motivated to grow and process, more patients would be served, more tax dollars would be generated and more jobs created.

It’s hard to say what’s keeping doctors from getting with the program. A possible explanation comes in the form of a typewritten document provided to the Gazette-Mail by Dr. Meredith Corn, the author of state coursework on medical cannabis and the producer of a two-minute DHHR video on the subject, required education for physicians who agree to do cannabis referrals or recommendations.

She has written similar education programs for other states’ medical cannabis programs.

“Most doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and psychologists know little to nothing about the therapeutic use of cannabis and the endocannabinoid system,” she said. “Most clinicians are not prepared to answer basic questions about medical cannabis.”

What are the risk and side effects of cannabis, she asks. Do the benefits of medical cannabis outweigh the risks? Is cannabis safe for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy?

“It is very important for nurses, doctors, pharmacists and psychologists to take the state-required course. Whether or not a clinician approves of medical cannabis and plans to recommend cannabis, the clinician needs to know about medical cannabis and its health effects in order to effectively and safely treat patients who consume cannabis.”

An industry awaits.

Greg Stone covers business. He can be reached at 304-348-5124 or gstone@hdmediallc.com.

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