CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Treasurer’s Office is trying to work out money exchange issues for the state’s new medical marijuana program.
Assistant Treasurer Josh Stowers told MetroNews banks have informed the office they are “uncomfortable” and “unwilling” to process funds relating to medical cannabis because the drug is still illegal on the federal level.
West Virginia legalized medical marijuana in April 2017. Since then, the state has been working to come up with how to implement the program.
Treasurer John Perdue sent a letter on March 1 to a number of stakeholders regarding the issue.
The letter was addressed to Governor Jim Justice, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, House Speaker Tim Armstead, Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch, Tax Commissioner Dale Steager, State Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta and Medical Cannabis Director Jason Frame.
In the letter, Perdue said “concerns stem from the direct conflict between federal law and state law on cannabis (marijuana) legality” and that the state will need to take a different approach to processing funds in order to enact the law.
The state has to deposit money from growers and processors, but needs vendors to process the funds. Currently, West Virginia does not have vendors on contract that are willing to take the money.
Other states that have marijuana laws use credit unions, but Stowers said that’s not an option for West Virginia.
“Currently, in state code, credit unions can’t bid on our business,” he said. “There’s a number of different options that are on the table here; however, currently, today there is no where for that money to be settled if it were to start coming in.”
Stowers said the Treasurer’s Office could ask Attorney General Patrick Morrisey for an opinion or decide whether or not to write an RFP to take bids for the service.
A bill to ease credit union restrictions died during this year’s regular 60-day session. Stowers said the bill would’ve allowed the state to have credit union bidding.
“We set up some language during session that would’ve opened the code up to allow for credit unions to bid on this if this is something they wanted to do, but it just depends if there’s entities in the state of West Virginia that are willing to perform this function for this process and go through all the hoops of acquiring a state contract,” he said.
The financial problems are in addition to other issues the state faces with the program. The DHHR and Medical Cannabis Advisory Board proposed changes to the current law, but a bill that included their recommendations died in the House of Delegates on the last night of the 2018 session.
Patients and caregivers will be issued identification cards beginning on July 1, 2019. It’s unknown if these issues would effect the program start date.
“I don’t want to say that it’s a set back for the program. I think it’s definitely an obstacle for this to be a successful program and for this state law to be implemented,” Stowers said.