Health official explains additional Monongalia County medical cannabis dispensary regulations

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Commissioners in Monongalia County are expected to take a vote on new regulations proposed for medical cannabis dispensaries, already approved by the county board of health. The health board unanimously passed the regulations May 27, however for the first time the ordinance also requires approval from the county commission.

Senate Bill 12 was passed in the last legislative session giving county commissions the authority to review regulations passed by county health boards.

“The health department recognizes that there are true risks that are involved and that there are multiple dark elements,” Chico said,” And those range from medical issues to safety issues, but there all health issues.”

In October of 2020, the Monongalia County Board of Health approved 20 dispensary permits unanimously. In early 2021, the DHHR Office of Medical Cannabis approved 100 dispensary permits statewide, 14 of those are approved for Mon County.

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

Guidance from the Monongalia County Health Department adds libraries and parks to the 1,000 foot list, while recommending 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.

On WAJR’s Talk of the Town, health board chair Sam Chico said large amounts of cash and medical marijuana in these 14 locations present many challenges for local officials. Chico believes the amount of cash and marijuana in the area could draw organized crime to area and endanger dispensary employees and the public at-large.

“We’re a proactive health department. We do not wait until a disaster strikes to be prepared,” Chico said,” We try to avoid clear issues and we saw this coming.”

According to Chico, the additional regulations passed by local health officials take up issues that the board felt were overlooked during the legislative process. Adding increased security and an onsite medical professional are specific ways to enhance safety.

“Civics 101 taught me a local ordinance or regulation can always enhance any state or federal regulation,” Chico said, “It can’t lessen any regulation, but of course a local ordinance can go above and beyond any state or federal reg.”

Local officials recognize medical cannabis is a highly sought after substance and a large amount of cash onsite could entice criminal activity. Additionally, the cannabis is not heavy or bulky and can be quickly sold on the black market.

“Criminals in general are searching for cash, or something very easy to convert to cash,” Chico said,” Marijuana is very easy to convert to cash on the black market.”

Chico operates several convenience stores in the region and also know others in the industry that contributed personal experiences to develop the regulations.

“I’ve operated convenience stores- I’ve seen many, many instances of people putting guns to peoples’ heads and asking for money,” Chico said,” And unfortunately, I’ve seen people shot and killed over $100, much less than $1,000,000 or $100,000.”

Monongalia County commissioners will vote on the regulations Wednesday during their regular meeting at 10 a.m.