Armed with new law, medical cannabis program plans moving forward

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Treasurer’s Office hopes to have a request for proposal (RFP) issued within the next month with the goal of hiring a financial institution to handle the money associated with the state’s medical marijuana program.

State lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year, House Bill 2538, signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice, that opens the door for additional financial organizations, like credit unions, to bid for the job. Traditional banking companies have shown lukewarm interest in handling marijuana money because of the questions surrounding the legality of marijuana.

Gina Joynes, deputy treasurer/communications, told MetroNews last week the proposed RFP is currently under legal review. The plan is to put the RFP out and then score the proposals once they are submitted.

Meanwhile, the state Office of Medical Cannabis is getting things into place with plans to move forward once a financial institution is hired.

“The banking institution will house the Medical Cannabis Fund that will be a home for the permitting fees and taxes derived,” Jason Frame, director of the West Virginia Office of Medical Cannabis, told MetroNews.

Frame has started the process of hiring additional staff, clerical workers and inspector, that will allow the state to move more quickly with the medical cannabis permits once the banking vendor is hired.

“The numbers (of new employees) will vary depending on the number and distribution of permitees we end up with. Again, at this point, we don’t know for sure the number of applications we will receive,” Frame said.

The Medical Cannabis Act, approved by lawmakers in 2017, allows cannabis to be used for certified medical use by state residents with a serious medical condition. The law allows the state to issue 10 growing permits, 10 processing permits and 30 dispensary permits.

“A grower can be a processor or stand alone but you can’t bee a grower or a processor and also be a dispenser,” Frame said.

Permit fees are $50,000 each for growers and processors and $10,000 for dispensaries.

Frame, who was hired last year, said he values the work done in 2017-2018 by the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board.

“Rules to accompany the Medical Cannabis Act have been filed. The structure of the office has been identified,” Frame said. “We’ve also identified vendors to help us along in this process and we’ve been able to gain information on the medical cannabis industry overall by visiting other states.”

The state visits have been invaluable, Frame said.

“We basically learned how the industry functions. What a successful medical cannabis business looks like, the investment involved and what type of people are involved in successfully implementing these processes,” he said, adding, West Virginia’s medical marijuana program looks most like the program operated in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Justice vetoed a second medical marijuana bill. House Bill 2079 dealt with permitting and regional distribution. Supporters fear the veto will further delay the program from getting up and running. Frame disagreed.

“The Office of Medical Cannabis is going to move forward, no matter what, based on the act we have in place now. That’s not going to hinder us from moving forward,” he said.

The state had originally hoped to have the program in operation by July 1 of this year but that won’t happen. An exact beginning date remains unclear.

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