When the state eventually issues permits, medical cannabis growers, dispensaries and processors will be allowed to operate in Kanawha County, county commissioners voted unanimously Thursday.
Although the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act was signed into law in April 2017, eligible patients likely won’t be prescribed medical cannabis until at least October 2021, government officials told the Gazette-Mail last year.
State code requires each health board to approve medical cannabis growers, dispensaries and processors within their respective county. Health boards then must write a letter of support for medical cannabis in the county to the Department of Health and Human Resources.
The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department voted unanimously Jan. 16 to write that letter, which KCHD Executive Director Dr. Sherri Young read to commissioners Thursday evening.
Greenbrier, Fayette, Raleigh and Summers county commissions have approved medical cannabis in recent weeks. These approvals are somewhat symbolic, but they give the applicants for permit holders assurance they’ll be allowed to do business in the county.
Kanawha Commissioner Ben Salango noted the high costs for simply applying for the program, a nonrefundable $5,000 for growers and processors, was a reason the vote needed to happen.
Rusty Williams, a patient advocate on the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, spoke in support of the vote. On Mother’s Day in 2012, Williams said he was diagnosed with late-stage testicular cancer, and was given just four months to live.
But with aggressive chemotherapy, Williams was told he had a 30 percent chance of survival.
“So I did what I needed to do. I illegally used cannabis to get through chemotherapy, and as a result of that decision I’m here today,” he said.
Williams, who is also running for the House of Delegates as a Democrat in the 35th District, told the story of a man who reached out to him after the medical cannabis bill was passed in 2017. He said medical cannabis would’ve saved this man’s life.
“He had been using cannabis illegally for decades for a degenerative disease he had in his back that caused the disks to naturally deteriorate,” Williams said. “He had no problems. He was raising kids, working every day … but he got caught with just a little more than a gram. He got put in the system, put on unsupervised probation and was required to submit to monthly drug tests.
“Well the pain didn’t go away, so they put him on opioids. Six months later, he died of an opioid overdose.”
Young said this story shows why some people need treatment through medical cannabis.
“That should never have happened,” she said. “This is a very timely bill in the fact that we need to get out of the opioid epidemic, but we need to have our other alternatives to adequately treat people for their needs.”
But Young said from a medical standpoint, “I don’t think we’re ready to discuss full legalization at this point.”
While this bill is a good start, Williams said, he’s for full legalization.
There are 15 “serious medical conditions” that allow people to be prescribed medical cannabis, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and terminal illnesses. Williams listed some more diseases he believes warrant treatment through the use of medical cannabis.
“Things like palindromic rheumatism, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, gastroparesis; there are absolutely no mental health conditions on the list,” Williams said
The bill doesn’t allow patients to be prescribed smokable marijuana. Pills, oils and creams are among the only forms permitted under the law.
The application period for medical marijuana growers, processors and dispensaries ends at 3 p.m. Feb. 18. Applicants can apply for permits at medcanwv.org.