MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When county commissioners in Monongalia County rejected additional regulations for medical cannabis dispensaries from the county’s health board last week it was the first practical test of newly passed Senate Bill 12.
SB 12 gives elected members of city councils and county commissions and other local government units more oversight over actions, rules and regulations enacted by local county health boards. During this year’s regular legislative session, lawmakers said the bill would allow more local input to potentially controversial issues.
All three Monongalia County commissioners wrote letters in opposition to the bill while lawmakers debated it on the premise they did want to second guess medical doctors or scientists.
The health board could file a legal challenge to the decision. Its next meeting is scheduled for next month.
County Commissioners’ Association of West Virginia Executive Director Jennifer Piercy said she heard similar concerns about second guessing medical professionals from other commissioners.
“When Senate Bill 12 was passed during the 2021 legislative session we had a lot of questions come up,” Piercy said. “Particularly from commissioners and county administrators on how this was going to work and if there was any process or procedure in place.”
Monongalia County commissioners rejected regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries that they said were over and above the Medical Cannabis Act passed in 2017 and amended earlier this year by the legislature. Commissioners unanimously rejected the regulations saying they were more strict than state law and the local board did not have the authority.
Additionally, the commission will draft a document that details each step of the process to evaluate the regulations and why they were rejected. The document will be read into the record and signed by the commissioners.
“This was really beneficial for us to watch this whole process,” Piercy said. “Because our group has been working with commissioners and administrators on how to put together some sort of structure to this, how to get our arms around it- some sort of guidance.”
After the regulations were passed by the health department in late May, the commission and county health board held a two-hour work session. Following that, commissioners reviewed dispensary facts from other states and got advice from their legal counsel.
According to Piercy, process appeared very orderly and seemed to include all those who wanted to be included.
“You had the opportunity for public comment and you also had the opportunity for commissioners to take their time, get legal opinions and really evaluate the situation,” Piercy said. “I think this is a great first step for us.”
Piercy said much more complex possibilities could come in the future.
“We have the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department- it’s several counties so you could have a situation where a rule is passed, but you might have different entities passing or not passing or approving these rules,” she said.
Due to the lack of guidance or precedence available, the action taken in Morgantown will be a case study for the application of the new law, she said.
“This is great because it’s a starting off point, it’s got good structure to it,” Piercy said. “We’ll be able to use this moving forward because I feel like it’s been very diligent.”
Along with Piercy, all three Monongalia County commissioners said health officials and elected leaders across the state are watching how the process unfolds in Morgantown.