State medical cannabis industry continues to grow

It has been over five years since the West Virginia Legislature approved the use of medical cannabis in West Virginia. Dispensaries are opening up all over the state, but the industry is still in its infancy.

West Virginia’s first medical cannabis dispensary opened in Morgantown in November 2021. Since then, the state has slowly but surely built its capacity to serve patients.

In an email to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, State Director Jason Frame Office of Medical Cannabis (WTO), said seven of the state’s 10 licensed cultivators are now operational, but only 17 of the potential 100 licensed dispensaries are open.

These dispensaries are not evenly distributed across the state. The Morgantown area alone has four operational dispensaries, with another open daily.

“Unfortunately they are not scattered, especially the Eastern Panhandle.” said Johnny McFadden, co-founder of Mountaineer Integrated Care. “You look at the map, there’s nothing there, and it’s a huge barrier to patient access right now.”

He hopes to fill the void in the Eastern Panhandle in the coming months with the opening of a dispensary in Ravenswood.

West Virginia is building the entire infrastructure for medical cannabis from the ground up. Until last year, there was no growing know-how in the state. Not everything obtained legally, at least.

“It’s our prerogative to hire locals,” McFadden said. “You can’t have legal cannabis experience as a potential employee unless you’re breaking the law, which makes it hard to put it on a resume.”

This gives an advantage to large, nationally established companies. They can draw on years of growing experience in other legal markets, as well as existing genetic libraries. However, even the biggest corporations cannot bypass nature.

“It takes months for the plant to grow,” Drew Bayley said. He is Director of Midwest Operations for Columbia Care, which retails under the Cannabist brand. They operate in 18 states, as well as in the European Union.

“In our factory, we have to be really on top of our processes and procedures,” Bayley said. “In a medical market like West Virginia, it’s really important that you always think six steps ahead.”

Chris Schulz

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West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The exterior of the recently opened cannabis dispensary on Don Knotts Boulevard in Morgantown, operated by Columbia Care.

It is never easy to know how much of a product a market might demand months in advance. This is doubly true of a new market where new consumers must be licensed by the state.

“So you have a little less flexibility there, you have patients who depend on you,” Bayley said. “If you don’t plan ahead, it’s really easy to throw yourself into the water in the future.”

Over email, Frame acknowledged that there was a shortage of medical cannabis products when dispensaries were initially launched in West Virginia, but said the issue was quickly resolved.

Growth is certainly a watchword in the industry. In the seven months since the opening of the state’s first dispensary by Trulieve, a Florida-based cannabis company, the Office of Medical Cannabis reports that sales of medical cannabis products have totaled nearly $5 million.

“No pun intended, we’re growing,” said Heather Pearis, West Virginia area manager for Trulieve.

With plenty of money to be made and plenty of room to grow, there is a sense of collaboration that permeates the state’s booming industry.

“You have to realize that everyone in the state is new, from Trulieve being new to the state to our grow facility at the Office of Medical Cannabis, the labs that are testing, everyone is new,” Pearis said. “We all grow together.”

Ultimately, everyone involved in the cannabis industry in West Virginia is involved for one simple reason: to help patients.

“So our culture is continually looking, ‘What are our patients really looking for in West Virginia?'” Pearis said. “It’s a real medical condition. Our patients are looking for relief.

West Virginia laws specify a limited number of conditions for the use of medical cannabis, many of which are terminal or result in chronic pain and discomfort.

“We’re all working to build this industry from the ground up, because that’s what our licenses give us the privilege to do,” McFadden said. “Whatever is better for patients from us or any company, we’re happy to see that.”

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