The State of Medical Marijuana in West Virginia
2020 Grade: F
2019-2020 Improvements and Recommendations
In March of 2019, Governor Jim Justice signed a medical cannabis banking bill into law, which extends state legal protections to any official prosecuted by the federal government for handling cannabis proceeds. Medical cannabis was projected to be available in the state by July 2019, but regulators did not begin collecting applications to extend licenses under the program until December of last year. Adding to the delay of the program’s launch is a desire by state regulators to have a dedicated banking system in place to support the medical cannabis industry before issuing any business licenses. In 2019, the West Virginia Office of Medical Cannabis indicated their desire to have a state banking system for the industry in place for two years prior to the opening of the program to extend treatment to patients.
While program launch setbacks continue, Mountain State lawmakers remain engaged in system reforms. In 2020, Governor Justice signed SB 339 into law, which authorized dry flower as a treatment option for patients and made modifications to improve the capability of cannabis regulators while program organization continues.
ASA recommends that West Virginia borrow policy from other states that have organized and are operating successful medical cannabis programs, despite the conflict of laws between the federal government and states that is currently dissuading most financial institutions from servicing the cannabis industry. Continued delays to program launch is directly impacting patients’ lives by denying them access to medicine they need for treatment. Further, state delays are placing patients at risk of arrest and prosecution for obtaining and using a medicine that the state has failed to deliver legal access to, despite having authorized the creation of a medical cannabis program over three years ago.
On April 19, 2017, Governor Justice signed SB 386, the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, which called for the creation of a Medical Cannabis Commission to be established to oversee and operate a state medical cannabis program. Under the program patients would be able to secure legal access to authorized cannabis products after a physician review determines eligibility. Mountain State patients in hospice, those with chronic and debilitating medical conditions and those experiencing severe chronic pain would be eligible to participate in the new program. With respect to treatment products, SB 386 only provided for the use of cannabis in the form of oils, pills, topicals, vaporization (but not of dry flower), tinctures, liquids and dermal patches.
Following enactment of the law the West Virginia Department of Health issued their report and recommendations to the Governor and Legislature in February of 2018, which advised that dry flower be included in the authorized list of cannabis treatment methods, and modified language related to physician evaluations to expand patient eligibility. The recommendations also called for a focus on affordable patient access and the removal of caps on medical retail storefront licenses to be issued by the state.
Surveyed patients are concerned that the state still does not have an active program and will likely have to wait several more years before receiving access.