West Virginia Medical Cannabis Advisory Board Prepares Population Surveys

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Ron Strider

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The head of West Virginia's Bureau of Public Health hopes to have population surveys finalized to determine patient and physician interest in medical cannabis out for delivery within the next week.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health and state health officer, said surveys will gather information in order to get a broad picture of where need is in the state.

The draft surveys were shared with the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Advisory Board at its Wednesday meeting at the University of Charleston.

For the bureau to issue permits, it must consider several factors, including regional population, number of patients diagnosed with serious medical conditions, types of medical conditions, access to public transportation, approval by local health bureaus and whether a county has disallowed the location of a grower, processor or dispensary.

The surveys aim to provide a better understanding of the potential market for medical cannabis and to provide anecdotal information about patient interest and physical location. They also will obtain information on the number of physicians interested in certifying patients, project potential program revenue from physician registration and patient identification cards and gauge need for outreach.

Gupta said the surveys will help the board to develop regions in the state.

"We shared it with the board today," he said. "They wanted to give tweaks to it including some questions. We want to have it in quickly. We haven't set a deadline yet but perhaps we will sometime next week."

Once surveys are finalized, they will be placed on the website, MEDCANWV.ORG. Physician surveys will go through the state board of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine.

Loretta Haddy, state epidemiologist with the Bureau for Public Health, said the patient surveys are voluntary. They will be pilot tested in rural and urban areas in West Virginia.

Haddy said the bureau is working with Medicaid and PEIA to gather zip code data of clients diagnosed with serious medical conditions as defined under the act. She said this data will be analyzed and officials will prepare a report to go before the advisory board by the end of the year to determine locations of regions and medical cannabis dispensaries throughout the state.

The board also split members into three subcommittees to look at different sections of the law. Gupta said his hopes are that subcommittees will speed up implementation.

The first group will look at medical professionals and serious medical conditions. The second will look at forms of medical cannabis and whether dry leaf or plant forms should be dispensed for vaporization. The third will look at affordable patient access to medical cannabis and review the number of growers, processors and dispensaries.

Gupta said these groups will meet over the next two months and bring back recommendations to the December meeting.

Gupta said the board is drafting emergency rules for processors and dispensaries, a draft of which he hopes to share at the next meeting. The plan, he said, is to have these rules ready to file by January.

The law faces some challenges in the future. One is finding funding. Gupta said no funding was allocated to the startup of the medical marijuana program but he is looking at internal ways to initially fund the program.

He estimated the startup costs for the program will run about $2 million – $700,000 of which will go toward developing a "seed to sale" program to track medical marijuana. He expects after that startup cost, ongoing costs should be about $1 million.

Gupta said he is still working with the governor's office to look at options, including getting a supplemental appropriation or a loan from another program.

Delegate Ron Walters, R-Kanawha, also spoke Wednesday. He and 21 other officials went on a fact-finding mission to Colorado in August organized by the West Virginia Travel and Hospitality Industry.

Walters noted he has several concerns with West Virginia's law.

"We made a number of errors in our bill," Walters said. "It was pointed out to us during our Colorado trip. The reason I want to share this is that you're in the rule-making position and you can help us correct our issues."

One concern is that West Virginia law does not allow the sale of buds, which he said could drop the black market value if West Virginia were to allow it.

Another is the three-tiered system of separate processors, growers and dispensaries.

"We met with lawmakers, dispensaries, growers and processors to try to get a feel for why that separation was there," Walters said. "They tried the three-tier system. They put it in law. One of the things they told us is to quickly get rid of the three tiers because it does not work in this industry."

The board's next meeting will be Dec. 14 in Morgantown.

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