2017-07-05 / Front Page

Medical cannabis law goes into effect July 5; patient access two years away

by Kate Shunney

On April 6, the West Virginia Legislature passed Senate Bill 386, allowing for the use of some forms of medical cannabis in the state for residents with specific medical conditions.

The law goes into effect 90 days from passage, meaning certain steps toward the use of medical cannabis can begin on July 5. Patients who could qualify to use cannabis as a medical treatment must get a state-issued ID card under the act. Those cards won’t be available to patients until July 1, 2019, the law says.

Between now and then, however, the state’s Bureau for Public Health will begin to implement multiple aspects of the law, according to the agency’s website.

That site already has basic information about the medical cannabis program, the law that will allow for its use, and information for companies interested in becoming growers, producers or dispensers of medical cannabis.

Unlike an earlier form of the law that was proposed in the Legislature this session, SB 386 doesn’t allow individuals to “grow their own.”

Plant and dry leaf forms of marijuana are not classified as medical cannabis under the act.

Cannabis products approved by lawmakers for certain medical use must come in the form of pills, oil, topical creams or gels, forms that can be vaporized or used in a nebulizer, tinctures, liquids or skin patches.

Those products can be purchased and used by patients who have a serious medical condition determined by a licensed medical practitioner who registers with the Bureau of Public Health.

Those medical conditions include: cancer, HIV/AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord damage, epilepsy, neuropathies, Huntington’s disease, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable seizures, sickle-cell anemia, severe chronic neuropathic pain or a terminal illness with a life expectancy of less than one year.

Patients who want to use medical cannabis under the care of a physician or practitioner must register each year with the Bureau for Public Health and get a photo ID. Caregivers can be registered and authorized to get and administer medical cannabis to patients or family members. The ID costs $50, but that fee can be waived on the basis of income, the act says.

Who can grow, sell it

Those looking to entering the business or supply end of medical cannabis will have to meet criteria written into the law itself. While the Bureau for Public Health has wide leeway under the act to implement the law, lawmakers spelled out 36 pages of details in the act.

A company wanting to grow or process medical cannabis will have to apply for one of 10 grower’s licenses and 10 processor licenses. Each company must pay a $5,000 fee to apply for a license. The license itself, good for a year, will cost $50,000. Renewals will cost $5,000 per year.

Businesses that want to sell medical cannabis through a dispensary must pay a $2,500 application fee for one of a maximum of 30 licenses around the state. The oneyear permit to operate will cost $10,000, with an annual renewal fee of $2,500. A maximum of two dispensaries will be permitted to a single person, under the act.

A company permitted as a grower or processor can’t run a dispensary. The legislation says there can be five dispensaries in each region of the state.

Companies wanting to grow, produce and sell medical cannabis in West Virginia have to prove their ability to maintain and track inventory records, secure any facility containing cannabis, prevent the diversion of cannabis from patients and show they have “good moral character,” the law says.

Who can give it, get it

A patient suffering from the conditions set out in the legislation can be prescribed medical cannabis only by a registered practitioner, under the law. A physician who wants to prescribe medical cannabis must register with the state’s Bureau for Public Health, take training on medical cannabis and must have a valid and unrevoked medical license in the state.

Doctors can’t have a direct financial interest in a medical cannabis company and can’t advertise that they are certified for medical cannabis, the law says.

Patient caregivers can also register with the state to get an ID that will allow them to buy medical cannabis for a client. Caregivers can include immediate family members or paid health aides. The state can deny a caregiver card to anyone convicted of drug dealing within the last five years, the law says.

Patients will be able to get a 30-day supply of medical cannabis at a time.

Laws, taxes

Local health departments around the state will have a role in approving cannabis operations in their area. Municipal or town governments can make rules to restrict the number and type of cannabis businesses inside their town limits, and counties have the power to block cannabis operations within their limits, the law says.

Under Senate Bill 386, the state can charge a 10% tax on gross receipts of medical cannabis businesses. That tax cannot be passed onto customers as a sales tax.

Of the tax generated under the law, 55% of the revenue would go to the Bureau for Public Health and 45% would be divided into three funds. Those funds would be the Fight Substance Abuse Fund, Division of Justice and Community Service fund for grants to law enforcement and a fund for law enforcement training.

Under the state legislation, researchers are urged to study the effects of cannabis on patients with various diseases.

A 13-member Medical Cannabis Advisory Board will be established to review the program, then report usage statistics and other data to the state government.

The Bureau for Public Health has said it’s very early in its efforts to implement the law, which made West Virginia one of 29 states with laws allowing medical marijuana.

Return to top