Board of health makes its case for local cannabis regulations

·3 min read

Jun. 18—MORGANTOWN — The Monongalia County Health Department and the county's board of health are not opposed to medical cannabis.

The arrival of medical cannabis in the county is a public health issue and therefore well within the local BOH's authority to regulate.

The West Virginia office of medical cannabis is not prepared to provide proper oversight for up 100 dispensaries statewide—troubling as 14 were approved for Monongalia County, which is far too many.

These were the major points raised Thursday by Monongalia County Health Officer Lee Smith and members of the board of health as they went before the Monongalia County Commission to make the case for why the body adopted a set of county regulations on cannabis dispensaries and why those regulations should be allowed to become law.

Under West Virginia Code 16-2-11, as recently amended by Senate Bill 12, the county commission has 30 days from the May 27 passage of the regulations to either approve, deny or amend what's been put forward by the board of health. That vote is expected to come at Wednesday's regular meeting.

According to Smith, if passed, Monongalia County's would be the first local regulations adopted in the state.

From the commission's perspective, the crux of the issue will likely come down to whether it believes the BOH has the authority to regulate medical cannabis beyond what's been codified by the West Virginia Legislature.

The commission has received legal opinions indicating it does not.

It's heard this argument echoed by members of the community—many tied to potential dispensary locations—who argue the BOH has passed beyond the realm of public health with the regulations, which include mandates pertaining to security measures, the presence of medical professionals, MCHD inspections and the locations of dispensaries, among other topics.

BOH Chairman Sam Chico called the notion "stunning, " explaining the very purpose of the body is to address arising public health issues, be they with swimming pools, tanning beds, tattoo parlors or any number of venues.

"You have a legal opinion that says we don't have this authority. I can tell you we have a legal opinion that we do, " he said, explaining the matter may end up being decided in court.

Among the board's concerns is the potential for violent crime targeting the dispensaries, which, Chico said, has been the reality where dispensaries are located.

"I can assure you, after some period of time, you're going to put in these rules. We can wait until people get harmed and then retrofit these places, or we can be proactive and put them in, " he said, explaining the large, multi-state operations already incorporate many of the mandates included in the BOH's regulations based on experience.

The number of dispensaries approved for the county—potentially 11 in Morgantown, two in Westover and one in Star City—heightened the level of concern among board members, including Toni DiChiacchio.

"The reason that's important is because there is certainly correlation between the amount of dispensaries in a locale and the perception of adolescence on the safety of marijuana, " she said. "That certainly is a vulnerable population."

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