Health board members brief Mon County commissioner on expanded dispensary regulations

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Mon County commissioners are working through additional regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries with the health department and could make a final decision June 23. The Mon County Board of Health added regulations and amendments that some have compared to zoning regulations that would be out of scope of authority for the board.

Mon County has been approved for 14 of the 100 dispensaries authorized in the state. The Medical Cannabis Act was passed in 2017.

State regulations require dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet from any school or daycare facility.

Guidance from the Mon County Health Department adds libraries and parks to the 1,000 foot list, while dictating dispensaries must be stand-alone or not in a strip mall. The regulations also include strict storage security for guidelines and other local legal requirements that are over and above the state law passed in 2017 and amended in the most recent legislative session.

Chairman of the Mon County Board of Health Sam Chico, assured commissioners the regulations were only approved by the board to protect the safety of the community.

“We’re probably the only people in this room that have no economic interest in this,” Chico said,” We don’t make a penny and we don’t lose a penny whether this comes or goes, whether the ordinance is here- we are unaffected by economics in our decision.”

Chico also operates Chico Enterprises, Inc., a company that operates convenience stores and other retail locations in the Morgantown area. Chico said the regulations are establish out of an abundance of caution and safety.

“I can assure you, after some period of time you’re going to put in these rules,” Chico said,” We can wait until people get harmed and we can retrofit these places or we can be proactive.”

Chico said the dispensaries would be the target of professional criminals.

“I’m talking organized crime, I’m talking “Oceans Eleven” type crime, I’m talking about gang violence,” Chico said,” I’m talking about semi-automatic weapons in overwhelming force coming into these places and scaring people to death or killing them.”

Commissioner Tom Bloom questioned the consistency of rulings and regulations passed by the health department regarding other businesses.

“I never heard the board of health come out at anytime with the 43 bars that are downtown and the problems that are there locally,” Bloom said.

State lawmakers recently passed Senate Bill 12 that puts some limits on health department by city councils and county commissions. The bill mandates that rules set by county boards of health should be approved by the county commission or other elected body after a public comment period.

“Being that you have a legal opinion that says we don’t have this authority, I can tell you we have a legal opinion that says we do,” Chico said,” So, it will maybe take a challenge of a judge, but that would be counter to everything we’ve done in our entire existence. We pass regulations and we regulate commerce- that’s what we do.”

Commissioners will review the matter at their regular meeting on June 23 at 10 a.m. at the Mon County Courthouse.