Lawmakers pass cannabis vertical integration bill

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CHARLESTON, W.Va (WSAZ) -- During the special session on Monday, lawmakers passed a medical marijuana vertical integration bill. The original bill was vetoed by Gov. Jim Justice after the 2019 session for a tax inequity.

Lawmakers passed a bill that will allow West Virginia cannabis companies to grow, process and sell medical marijuana.

A bill legalizing medical marijuana was passed back in 2017. The updated cannabis vertical integration bill, Senate Bill 1037, allows one business to grow, process and sell a product with the right permits. Currently, a business like Purple Leaf Cannabis Dispensary would have to buy their product from a farmer.

Purple Leaf owner Kristal Reeves said growing, processing and selling medical marijuana has been her goal from the start.

"I'm here for the industry, I want to be from seed to store," she said. Doing all parts of the process can maximize the profit for a business.

Reeves is already working toward growing hemp, but in July she can work toward growing medical marijuana too. However, businesses have to apply for the correct permits, and only 100 permits will be given out in the state. State officials will consider how geographic location of dispensaries would effect patient access to medical cannabis products when selecting applicants.

"It's very understandable that there are a lot of hoops to jump through because it's a learning experience for all of us in the state of West Virginia," Reeves said.

The bill only allows West Virginia companies to seek permits. Reeves said this will help keep money and jobs within the state.

"There are so many job opportunities. There are so many avenues that you can take this industry," she said.

However, Reeves said, the downside to requiring state residency is it will slow down the process. She said it takes a long time for a business to secure permits, plant and harvest the plants and process them for production. Permit applications have not even been released yet, and the Department of Health and Human Resources Office of Medical Cannabis Director Jason Frame said they cannot release the applications until there is a process to accept and disburse funds related to applications for permits and fees associated with the implementation of the Medical Cannabis Act.

Frame said an application evaluation process will take 3-6 months. However, SB 1037 allows eligible patients to pre-register for a medical marijuana card.

The bill also changes current law by eliminating a requirement for doctors to try or consider opioids before prescribing medical marijuana.