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West Virginia medical cannabis program still needs testing lab

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CHARLESTON — Growers, processors and dispensaries for West Virginia’s long-awaited medical cannabis program have been selected with patients able to register for the program as of Wednesday, but the state still needs a lab partner to test the product.

The Department of Health and Human Resources Office of Medical Cannabis announced last week patients can register to receive medical cannabis as of noon Wednesday at medcanwv.org, though products are not currently available.

The office announced the approval Friday of permits for 100 dispensaries in 23 counties. Dispensaries will be able to sell medical cannabis to patients with approved registration cards as soon as products are available, including pills, oils, topical ointments, liquids, dermal patches, tinctures and forms that can be used in vaporizers and nebulizers.

The law excluded dry leaf or whole plant uses.

A list of approved medical cannabis growers was released in October while the approved list of processors was released in November. Signed into law in 2017, the Medical Cannabis Act legalizes marijuana for medical use.

The only thing not in place is a testing lab. State code requires growers and processors to contract with an independent lab for testing of the medical cannabis products. According to a DHHR spokesperson, the Office of Medical Cannabis has yet to grant permit applications.

“No labs have been granted permits at this time,” said Allison Adler, communications director for DHHR. “The Office of Medical Cannabis is working to have permitted labs in place as soon as possible.”

A delay in lab selection could cause production problems for growers and processors and create a backlog for product approval. Any lab approved would have to be located in West Virginia due to the legal issues surrounding transportation of a drug considered a schedule I under the federal Controlled Substances Act across state lines.

Legislation vetoed in 2019 would have allowed the West Virginia Department of Agriculture to use its lab to test medical cannabis. The department’s lab already tests industrial hemp to determine that THC levels, the psychoactive chemical that gives users a high, are below a certain level.

Adler said that even though House Bill 2079 was vetoed, the current code still allows the Department of Agriculture to participate.

“The West Virginia Department of Agriculture has not applied for certification as a medical cannabis lab,” Adler said. “The West Virginia Department of Agriculture lab can apply to be a certified medical cannabis lab at any time.”

Crescent Gallagher, communications director and legislative liaison for the Department of Agriculture disagrees. He said the way the code is written, it clearly contemplates DHHR contracting with private labs.

“Based on the statue … we believe it was the intention of our lawmakers for private industry to have the opportunity to provide testing,” Gallagher said. “The WVDA did not feel it was appropriate for the department to spend taxpayer resources to compete with private industry for these contracts.”

Gallagher said the department remains willing to act as a lab for the medical cannabis program, but DHHR needs to come to the table. With the program finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel, Gallagher said both departments and lawmakers will need to consider a fix during the legislative session starting on Wednesday.

“The responsibility at the end of the day is on DHHR and the Office of Cannabis to ensure there is sufficient testing to meet industry demand. DHHR needs to determine if that includes private/public partnerships,” Gallagher said. “Regardless, the department stands eager to help, and has been since 2019. If needed, the WVDA could quickly provide testing given our expertise and resources under the West Virginia Industrial Hemp program.”

Potential patients will receive a medical cannabis card and must be deemed eligible by an approved physician as having a serious medical condition that qualifies for medical cannabis. These conditions include forms of cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, Huntington’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic nerve pain, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, spinal cord damage, sickle cell anemia, and terminal illnesses.

“Even during this pandemic, the Office of Medical Cannabis has been working hard to advance the program and to achieve these steps to ensure that medical cannabis is made available to West Virginia residents with serious medical conditions,” said Jason Frame, director of the Office of Medical Cannabis.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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