BUCKHANNON — County Commissioners had to make a difficult decision Thursday morning, when Upshur County Development Authority (UCDA) Director Rob Hinton came before them to ask for letters of support for three companies seeking permits to manufacture medical cannabis in Upshur County. The commission approved the request to send letters of support for each company by a majority vote.
Commissioner Kristie Tenney declined to approve this motion because she felt given the wording of the legislation, that the people in the county should have an opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns, and for those reasons she did not support the motion. “I feel like the WV code has allowed for the people to have a vote, and because of the way that law is written, I would like to see that we have further discussion and wait until next week to discuss further,” expressed Tenney.
WV code §16A-7-6 that Tenney referenced states, “A county may pass an ordinance by vote of the residents of the county to prohibit the operation or location of a medical cannabis organization within that particular county. A prohibition under this section shall remain in effect unless and until changed by a subsequent vote.”
Commissioner Terry Cutright expressed, “I like the idea of the people getting to vote. If we had six months or a year, I say put it on the ballot… But I think this is one of those really tough decisions that has come before the Commission that the people elected us to make.”
Commissioner Sam Nolte explained, “I have reached out to a lot of people in the community and people have been very supportive, and no one has approached me that has been against it…Mainly to the fact that the decision has already been made by the state.” Nolte made a motion to approve the request and Cutright voted in favor of the motion.
Commissioners wanted the public to note, the legislature in Charleston already passed the law for the legalization of medical cannabis in West Virginia, referenced as the Medical Cannabis Act, in April of 2017. Upshur County Commissioners simply voted to send letters of support for three companies seeking approval to potentially grow and produce medical cannabis in Upshur County, mainly in order to create jobs and improve economic development.
The Act allows patients suffering from 15 serious medical conditions access to medical cannabis. West Virginia was the 29th state to pass legislation regarding medical cannabis and today, 33 states have passed similar legislation, totaling 66 percent of the country, according to Hinton. In 2018, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first CBD medication for treatment of seizures in severe forms of epilepsy and three additional medications. The FDA has developed a model for clinical studies to develop even more medications. “It is trending in the near future, the FDA will approve further related medications and continue towards a federally regulated market,” explained Hinton.
Hinton explained to the Commissioners that the rapid growth of technology, although we hate it sometimes, is not going away. His job is to find and create jobs that the community can count on now and in the future. The coal industry brought a lot of opportunity and wealth for a hundred years, but changes in the market and policies have created a decline. “Same can be said for the oil and gas,” explained Hinton. This shift in the market has consequently resulted in a lot of people leaving the area to find jobs in other states. “It is our job to make sure we invest, either financially or by simply offering support, of new industries and new technologies that can become economic drivers and job creators for our community tomorrow.”
Hinton explained that we have made steps forward by taking risks previously, but we can’t take our foot off the accelerator – “success is a moving target.” Hinton mentioned there have only been three occasions since he took this job six years ago, that manufacturers have had an opportunity like this in our area. Most of the time, manufacturers want to go elsewhere, simply because of numbers – such as population size.
There is an evolution happening in the pharmaceutical industry and it is not anything new, explained Hinton. There are many advancements and innovations being made in medicine across the country. “If we were looking at this from a market and industry strength, the trends show that a community that can lead a pharmaceutical manufacturer would bode well to have an uptake economic impact,” he further explained.
Hinton wanted Commissioners to understand where Upshur County stands compared to the rest of the country. Upshur County currently has a median household income of $40,401 and the national average is $63,688. The per capita income in Upshur County is $21,701 and the national average is $46,800 – we are well below 50 percent. Persons living in poverty in Upshur county is 19 percent. Hinton expressed that the only way these numbers will improve, and they must in order to increase economic development, is by creating sustainable jobs, here in Upshur County.
“It is important we take stock at every opportunity we have to land a new company that can provide jobs for our community members.” That is what today is all about – job creation. In order to improve economic development, we need to provide jobs that pay well. Hinton further explained, we need jobs that offer a wage that people can raise a family on and not struggle paycheck to paycheck; jobs that allow people to afford a nice home, car, and dinners out at our amazing restaurants, and allow their children to partake in activities and sports…or whatever else the community has to offer. “Today, we have the opportunity to create change and continue to be a leader for the state of West Virginia,” he explained. Hinton expressed his pride for Upshur County by saying, “I don’t know if you realize this, but I hope you do, but what Upshur County is, is a leader for West Virginia. We do some pretty impressive things here, and we are looked at from other communities as having everything together and moving in the right direction.”
One company estimated they will have approximately 100 job opportunities in the first three years and have projected to pay a minimum wage starting at $20 an hour, which will be approximately $40,000 a year, which is twice the average per capita income currently. They also projected a salary wage of $65,000, for salary employees. “These are life changing job opportunities and that is what’s important about today,” expressed Hinton.
“There is no argument that this industry is challenged with moral and ethical conflict and there is nothing wrong with that. But the state has lawfully authorized this industry to operate in West Virginia,” Hinton stated. He asserted we have two choices: take bold steps and invest in this opportunity or hesitate. Regardless of the approval from the Commission, patients suffering from the 15 illnesses prohibited, will go elsewhere to get the medication if it were not approved in Upshur, explained Hinton. There are 54 other counties for these manufacturers to choose from. Some community is going to be benefit from this and Hinton said he would like Upshur to be that county.
There are currently three pharmaceutical companies interested in Upshur County. They have visited and toured and like what they see, according to Hinton. One of the three companies is a local start-up company owned and operated by the Queen family who are already growing, extracting and producing CBD products. There is word that Brushy Fork and the old Amory are potential locations for these companies to utilize for manufacturing. The growing and producing must be accomplished in a controlled environment – so it will likely be in a highly secured building that will be discrete to the public.
You can be on the user end or you can be on the creation and manufacturing end, and the creation end is the end that wins, concluded Hinton.