Owners of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum hope the facility and Lewis County will be at the forefront of the medical cannabis industry in West Virginia.
The owners of TALA intend to submit an application to the state to grow medical cannabis behind the facility, according to operations manager Rebecca Jordan-Gleason.
If recreational marijuana becomes legal, the owners of TALA would like to participate in that market, as well, she said.
TALA is a historical landmark in Weston that previously served as a sanctuary for the mentally ill starting in the mid-1800s, according to the organization’s website.
The facility’s current owners are working to restore TALA and hope that growing medical cannabis will provide an additional revenue stream for the restoration efforts, Jordan-Gleason said.
The venture could also mean an influx of money for the county and improvements in overall health, she said.
“The medical aspects have made us want to do it,” she said. “This is an aspirin that will be beneficial to so many people and take away the addictive side of this.”
The application period has not opened in the state, but Jordan-Gleason anticipates applying in June.
“Those applications aren’t even out. We don’t know how many plants we can grow. We don’t know all the strict regulations they’ll be putting on us,” she said. According to Gleason, the plan is to renovate, secure and install surveillance on buildings located in the back of the property for growing operations.
“We’ve been working on this for probably six years. We’ve been watching what’s going on around us, watching what’s going on in legislation in Colorado,” she said. “The big thing is to be cognizant, coherent and understand what’s happening in the states where it is legal so we’re able to change and try to alleviate those mistakes and be able to move forward educated.”
According to Jordan-Gleason, having the support of the city and county will be imperative for being awarded a license by the state. TALA has already started to process or gain those approvals.
According to Weston Mayor Julia Spelsberg, the four-member council unanimously voted during its Monday regular meeting to approve a letter of support, citing the potential health benefits of medical cannabis and opportunities for economic growth in the city.
As mayor, Spelsberg was not able to vote, but said she believes medical cannabis is “the coming thing” and hopes the organization is able to get the license.
Spelsberg said one member of the public briefly expressed disapproval of the letter of support during the meeting.
Jordan-Gleason said it will be important for Lewis County to be at the forefront of the movement into medical cannabis to reap the economic benefits. The current legislation allows only 10 cannabis growers in the state.
“We’re trying to become one of those first 10 counties,” Jordan-Gleason said.
The start-up costs will not be cheap, however. In addition to the investments in infrastructure for growing, there is a $5,000 application fee and a $50,000 permit fee. The permit fee is refundable if the permit is not granted, according to information from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
Jordan-Gleason anticipates it will cost $500,000 to set up the operation.
“It’s kind of frightening,” she said. “There really is no idea what we can make. We believe it will sustain itself.”
They will not use tourism funding for the operation, she said.
There may be other cause for concern, as well, according to Jesse Richardson, lead land use attorney for the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic at the West Virginia University College of Law. Richardson was formerly president of the American Agricultural Law Association.
Richardson’s statements are his own and don’t necessarily reflects the views of WVU, the law school or the clinic, he said.
“I think it could be a real economic boom for West Virginia, and I think the potential is huge,” he said. “From a more practical standpoint, I think the medical marijuana law that we have now is a real barrier to that.”
The current law makes it prohibitively expensive and risky, he said. He does not believe doctors will feel comfortable prescribing medical cannabis under the state’s Medical Cannabis Act as currently written.
“The law is very prescriptive, no pun intended, with respect to what medical conditions marijuana can be prescribed for and when doctors can do it, how they can do it,” he said.
There is also concern about what the impact will be on medical malpractice insurance and whether doctors will be liable if something were to happen, he said.
Marijuana also remains illegal at the federal level, increasing the risk associated with the industry. Federal law could keep people who would normally use medical cannabis from doing so and make it difficult for companies that want to take part in the industry to retain legal representation.
“The West Virginia State Bar Council has warned lawyers that marijuana is illegal at the federal level, so if you advise somebody on medical marijuana issues, you are risking disbarment because you are basically advising somebody to do something illegal,” he said. An amendment to the Medical Cannabis Act that would fix that issue has been proposed, but not yet adopted, he said.
He believes if the problems can be fixed, however, that West Virginia could gain a lot.
“Generally, if you look at West Virginia, I think West Virginia is ideally suited. I would say they could be a leader in the country on medical marijuana. The environment, the growing conditions are pretty much ideal. It’s hard for people to eradicate illegally-grown marijuana in the state because it grows so well, so from a growing standpoint, it’s really perfect for the state,” he said.
There is also an abundance of available land and labor in the state, he said.
“We’re trying to bring something big, or with the potential to be big, to Lewis County,” Jordan-Gleason said. “This could be the best thing to hit Lewis County, and I anticipate it’s absolutely going to help West Virginia in an amazing way.”