MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Legislators are running out of time to come up with fixes to West Virginia’s medicinal marijuana law, set to take effect Jul. 1, 2019.

For Del. John Williams (D – Monongalia, 51), a proponent of medicinal marijuana, it is a matter that must be addressed urgently.

But the issues surrounding West Virginia’s law are complicated — primarily centered on the unwillingness of banks to get involved in the finance of the burgeoning industry.

“I know a lot of folks are concerned about how lax California is,” Williams said on WAJR’s Morgantown AM. “On Venice Beach, there are certain doctors you go to and you can fib something and you get a card.”

His solution — and perhaps one of the few remaining solutions left — is the advent of a closed loop system.

“With this, it would require a prescription for a legitimte medical concern,” Williams added.

That would require a third party vendor to come into play to keep the loop closed, but it may be the last option remaining to salvage the law that passed with grassroots support in 2017.

“People who are given a card to treat their PTSD, their rheumatoid arthritis, whatever the case may be, they will never actually pay American dollars for marijuana,” Williams said. “They will go to the state government and pay American dollars for credit and then pay the dispensary in store credit.”

Del. John Williams at Legislative Town Hall

Brittany Murray/Metronews

Del. John Williams (D-Monongalia, 51) at Legislative Town Hall

“That way,” he added, “we don’t run afoul of federal law, but we’re still able to get necessary pain management to folks.”

Without a bank willing to finance — the closed loop option is essentially one of three ways to help guide the law to its intended purpose — getting medicinal marijuana in the hands of those in need. Another option includes an all-cash economy, though experts have testified to the inherent dangers involved.

“They just solely deal with cash because banks won’t take their money,” he said. “So that’s a major public safety issue having these thousands of dollars in stores. This, dealing with credit, you can’t rob a store of credit. So this makes the industry safer.”

A state-run bank could potentially finance the industry, but Williams said he’s been told that the State Treasurer’s office simply does not have the resources to do that.

That’s where the closed loop system, almost by default, comes into play. The rescinding of the Obama-era Cole Memo last year by the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice was seen as one of the driving forces behind the stalling of West Virginia’s medical marijuana law, which is why Williams said a workaround needs to come out of Charleston next month.

“If anybody’s ever bought a Lowe’s gift card, that’s a closed loop system,” he said. “You bought store credit. You can only use it at Lowe’s.”

Lawmakers pushed, but were ultimately unsuccessful, to force a special session earlier this year to address these issues, earning enough signatures in the Senate before falling short in the House of Delegates.

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