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Mon County Commission reviewing authority over marijuana regulations

MORGANTOWN – Blowback is growing against an ordinance unanimously approved by the Monongalia County Board of Health, imposing regulations on medical cannabis dispensaries beyond what is outlined in state code. Legislation approved earlier this year might give the county commission authority to review and have the ultimate say on the controversial rules.

“It contains language in that is the purview of the planning commission. It’s not the purview of the board of health or anybody else. It sets a very horrible precedent for the county departments,” said Mark Nesselroad with Black Diamond Realty. Black Diamond represents property owners and dispensary firms in the county.

The Board of Health approved the regulations on May 27th and immediately put out amended regulations for public comment. The ordinance includes requirements for location facilities, security, personnel, and loading areas and more. However, there is a question of whether or not the Monongalia County Commission must also sign-off on the ordinance.

Senate Bill 12, approved by the legislature in March, went into effect on June 2 and gives local elected officials oversight of decisions made by county health departments. The bill, which was opposed by both the county commission and health board, passed largely along party lines.

“It’s now a legal conundrum,” said Commission President Sean Sikora.

Language in Senate Bill 12 suggests the county commission could have the opportunity to step in. The bill states “a rule currently in effect is not subject to approval, unless amended, from the county commission or appointing authority.” Because the ordinance passed by the health board does not take effect until June 26th and an amended version of the regulations is still pending, the door might be open for the county commission to weigh in on issue.

“It creates a lot of turmoil and uncertainty,” Nesselroad insisted. “The existing regulations include language that is conflicting with state law.”

The Monongalia County Commission hired Lewis Glasser PLLC back in October when the regulations were first proposed to review the ordinance. The report concluded the ordinance went “beyond the power and authority of the local county health department.”

Legal counsel hired by the health department returned an opinion that the department was within it’s authority to adopt the regulations.

“We’re taking everything under advisement and see what our legal positions are and will have a discussion about it,” stated Commissioner Jeff Arnett.

Sikora pointed out the state Office of Medical Cannabis approved 14 dispensaries for Monongalia County and questioned whether or not the market could support that number of locations.

“That’s a law of supply and demand. We should let supply and demand figure that out,” Nesselroad concluded.

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