CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginians seeking pain relief via medical marijuana could have to wait until July 2019 for the option, as the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act is currently written.

Oversight for implementation falls to the Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health which will have regulatory and enforcement authority over the growing, processing, sale and use of medical cannabis within the Mountain State.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, state health officer and bureau commissioner, said — as the Mountain State becomes the 29th state legalizing medical marijuana — there is still a lot that is not known about it.

Dr. Rahul Gupta

“It is a difficult, not an undoable task between balancing the needs of individuals to get relief in a compassionate way with the existing literature and science,” he said.

On Wednesday, Gupta was at the State Capitol when Governor Jim Justice signed SB 386 into law.

Once fully implemented, it’ll make medical marijuana a legal option for people with the following medical conditions:

Cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, neuropathies, Huntington’s disease, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable seizures, sickle cell anemia, severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional treatments have not worked and terminal illness with a projected life expectancy of one year or less

Other conditions could be added later.

July 1, 2019 is the projected launch date.

When the law is in place, qualifying medical marijuana users would have to apply for patient ID cards from the Bureau for Public Health. The fee will be $50, though exceptions could be made for people who cannot afford that.

Gupta said, in addition to time to develop regulations, the delay allows for more research into medical marijuana uses to be completed.

“I think one of the things that’s going to happen in the next two years, probably, is that we will have a lot of new evidence developing,” he said on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

Along with an ID card, a certificate from a doctor, approved by the Bureau for Public Health, will also be required.

“I think it’s going to be up to the training, the clinical acumen and the wisdom of that physician to make a decision on behalf of that patient,” Gupta said.

With both an ID and certificate, qualifying patients could then purchase medical marijuana from one of up to 30 dispensaries in West Virginia supplied by processors who will pay fees and are also licensed through the Bureau for Public Health.

Caregivers would be permitted to make purchases for patients with ID cards.

The medical marijuana will be available as pills; oils; for vaporization or nebulization; in topical forms, like gels, creams or ointments; tinctures; liquids or dermal patches.

Smokable and pre-made edible forms of marijuana are not permitted in the law and marijuana plant cultivation for personal, medical use is prohibited by unlicensed growers.

As a doctor, Gupta said the question of whether medical marijuana will be beneficial for patients cannot be definitively answered now.

“I think it’s not a black and white,” he said. “It’s something that we are continuing to learn, evolve, but as Governor Justice said, if there’s a way we can help people with compassion, for the chronic pain being at the heart of it, we must try to do that.”

Medical cannabis is still illegal under federal law, though it is not a prosecution priority for the U.S. Department of Justice with guidance issued in 2013.

A provision that expires with the federal short-term spending plan on Apr. 28 prohibits Justice Department interference in state-level medical cannabis programs.

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