State is ready to announce the first medical marijuana farms

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The first permits for growing medical marijuana will soon be issued in West Virginia.

“We hope to issue grower permits within the next week,” said Jason Frame, Director of the West Virginia Office of Medical Cannabis. “It’s a huge step for O-M-C to actually start production of these physical facilities.”

Ten growers were selected to receive the permits out of 39 applicants. They’ll not be able to sit around. Each permit requires action within six months. There are provisions to provide some additional time if needed, but if the permit holder fails to move forward with the development of an operation in the prescribed time, they risk losing the permit.

“The point of that provision is to make sure people don’t obtain these permits and then just sit on them. We want an operational industry in the state,” Frame told members of the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board in a Thursday virtual meeting.

The practice of hording permits has been a problem in other states in launching the medical marijuana industry. Some will obtain the permits and hold them for sale at a profit at a later date. Others, Frame said, will be awarded a permit and will immediately sell for a profit. The action can’t happen in West Virginia since the code forbids selling of the permit and also requires action within the six month window to get going.

The vetting process was a challenge according to Frame and took much longer than they would have hoped. Still, he told advisory board members he’s satisfied with the process and is pleased it is done. The next move is to begin pairing down and evaluating applicants for dispensary permits in the state. Frame believed the process will go much faster than the grower permits with additional help hired to help score the applicants.

There is also a process of evaluating site locations and disqualifying those within 1,000 feet of a school. Mercer County is the only county which has denied access to any part of the medical cannabis industry. Growers, dispensaries, and doctors will not be authorized to operate any part of the medical cannabis industry in Mercer County.

The OMB continues to register physicians certified to qualify patients to receive a medical cannabis prescription.

“We have 29 physicians registered to certify patients. That number continues to increase. They have completed the four-hour training and the registration process,” Frame said.

He said a wide variety of specialties are represented in the registered doctors and are spread out across the state. He pointed out this is not to write the prescriptions, but to simply qualify those who have a condition which would qualify them to receive a prescription.

During an update on the startup of the industry, Frame confirmed two people have been hired as investigators and part of the office’s enforcement team. A third investigator is also expected to be brought on board as operations broaden.

The industry appears to be on track to be operational by the spring or summer of 2021.

“We want to have a functioning industry in which patients can visit a dispensary and obtain product in late Spring ’21. We’ll start registering patients in the early spring,” Frame said.

According to Frame they have the network in place to start issuing patient permits now, but wanted to hold off until the industry is ready to begin full function. The patient permits are good for only a year and there is a fee associated with the permit.

“We didn’t want to issue a permit and then they wouldn’t be able to use it for eight months,” he said.

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