WELLSBURG – The Brooke County Board of Health Monday agreed to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the county and lifted a ban on the sale of alcohol to out-of-state customers spurred by COVID-19.
Mike Bolen, administrator of the county’s health department, told the board state legislators might not have intended for prospective medical cannabis businesses to seek approval from local health boards.
Bolen said he believes the condition was inadvertently retained from the Pennsylvania law that West Virginia legislators used as a template for their own 2017 law permitting manufacturers and distributors of marijuana for medical purposes.
Board members noted they’ve been given no guidelines in approving or denying them, and Bolen said his department won’t be charged with inspecting them.
That task will fall to the state’s newly formed Office on Medical Cannabis, a division of the state Bureau for Public Health.
Bolen said local health boards also aren’t charged with approving or denying the opening of specific businesses specializing in the drug.
“The entire thing is a state program. We have nothing to do with this,” he said.
Asked his opinion, Dr. Joseph Depetro, the board’s medical director, said he believes the drug is beneficial to some but not perhaps as many as the laws implemented in Pennsylvania and West Virginia would indicate.
In West Virginia the drug has been approved for treatment of a terminal illness with a prognosis of one year or less; cancer, HIV/AIDS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord damage, epilepsy, neuropathies, Huntington’s disease, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable seizures, sickle cell anemia, or severe chronic or intractable pain.
DePetro said there are conflicting studies regarding its effectiveness, but added, “I don’t think you should stand in the way of it.”
He suggested the board allude to the state’s approval of medical cannabis in delivering its own ruling, and it did.
The move comes three months after the board was approached by Greg Gerdemann and Erin Carey, who plan to open a dispensary in downtown Weirton.
Bolen said he’s learned the pair’s business is among five that have applied for a state permit to run dispensaries in Brooke County, with two others pending in Weirton and one each eyed for Wellsburg and Beech Bottom.
“The state might deny all of these or they might approve them all,” Bolen said.
State officials have indicated plans to issue up to 100 dispensary permits, 10 permits for marijuana cultivators and 10 permits for businesses involved in processing the plant into drug form.
Bolen said he’s not aware of other health boards prohibiting the businesses and prohibiting one in the county might only force its customers to take their business to another county.
Ohio also has approved the sale of medical cannabis under certain conditions.
Those wishing to use the drug in both states must obtain a recommendation from a state-approved doctor and apply for a state-issued card allowing them to purchase it.
The drug cannot be sold to non-residents.
In other business, the board agreed to lift the ban on the sale of alcohol to out-of-state customers approved in early April.
The Hancock County health board also ordered such a ban.
Bolen said the ban was spurred by a large number of customers coming from various areas of Pennsylvania, where alcohol sales were shuttered, and a failure to observe safe distancing at local liquor stores.
In related business, Bolen said while the three Brooke County residents who tested positive for COVID-19 have recovered, his staff continues to investigate others with whom they may have had contact.
He said 46 people close to the patients were closely monitored while many others were interviewed.
“I can’t say enough about my staff, who went above and beyond to do this,” Bolen said, adding staff provided personal protective equipment to the patients and even got food for them to ensure they would remain quarantined.
He noted the Brooke and Hancock health departments teamed with others to conduct drive-up testing of people believed, following telephone interviews, to be most likely to have the coronavirus.
Bolen said about 70 were tested in Hancock County and about 20 were tested in Brooke County.
He said such tests normally aren’t conducted by local health departments but were aimed at preventing local hospitals from being overwhelmed by cases of the disease.
“We prevented a hospital surge. Everybody did, not just us,” Bolen said.
He said continued safe distancing, frequent hand-washing and other practices of good hygiene still are needed to reduce risk of contracting the virus.
Bolen noted the county courthouse has been reopened, and with it the vaccinations and other services offered by the health department, but appointments are required for all visitors. Those wishing to visit the health department should call 304-737-3665.
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