Perdue suggests medical cannabis banking fix

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Treasurer John Perdue has sent a letter to Gov. Jim Justice offering two possible solutions to a banking dilemma that is holding up the Mountain State’s medical cannabis program.

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by Rusty Marks STAFF WRITER

In early March, Perdue told state officials that his office would not be able to handle financial transactions related to medical marijuana licensing or other banking functions related to medical marijuana because of conflicts between federal and state law. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law despite being legalized in some form in 30 states.

West Virginia legislators passed a law in 2017 legalizing the use of medical marijuana for certain health conditions. The law also authorized the state to set up a way to govern medical cannabis growers, processors and distributors for medical marijuana.

The medical cannabis program was to become operational in 2019, but implementing the program has been held up because Perdue could not find a legal way to handle financial transactions for the budding industry.

“We’re at the stage now where the application fees (from those in the medical cannabis industry) are supposed to start coming in to fund the program,” said Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, who has been one of the strongest legislative proponents of medical marijuana use.

The state Senate proposed a fix to the banking dilemma during the 2018 regular session in an amendment to House Bill 4345.

That bill further defined the number of medical marijuana growers, processors and dispensaries that would be allowed under the law.

But the amendment died on the floor of the House of Delegates in the waning minutes of the 60-day session.

On Thursday, Perdue sent a letter to Justice outlining two possible solutions to the banking dilemma.

“The processing of medical cannabis funds is a complicated issue,” Perdue wrote in the letter. “In an effort to find a lawful banking solution for the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, my staff and I have proactively reached out to discuss the situation with many stakeholders on both the state and national levels. Those include members of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, other state officials, financial institutions, state lawmakers, agencies and the general public.”

In his letter, Perdue proposes two possible solutions to the banking problem.

One would require passing a law to give the treasurer’s office authority to set up a third-party vending system to handle banking transactions related to medical cannabis, and the other would be passing a law to allow the treasurer’s office to set up its own bank.

“Each of these options are complex and have positive and negative attributes,” Perdue told Justice. “This letter is merely a summary of the options recommended.”

Purdue said Thursday he is trying to find a way to make medical marijuana financial transactions workable.

“It is my fiduciary responsibility to follow state laws and conduct the banking business of the state in a safe and secure manner,” Perdue said. “Up until this time, my office was not part of the planning process for implementing medical cannabis. However, when we became aware there might be a state banking issue related to his, we began researching options and took steps to actively address the issue.”

Pushkin is among lawmakers who wants the medical marijuana law brought back up for discussion during a special legislative session. Justice has proposed a special session that many lawmakers think will take place during legislative interim meetings in May.

Pushkin said the original medical cannabis law was approved by a large majority of Democrats and Republicans in the state House of Delegates and Senate, and is supported by the majority of West Virginians.

We owe it to the people who are suffering from the various conditions recognized under this law to get it right,” he said.

President Donald Trump, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Mike Stuart, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, all have said they would crack down on marijuana. However, Pushkin said threats by federal officials to go after states that have legalized the use of marijuana in one form or another are hollow.

“There’s no money in the federal budget for prosecution,” he said.

Staff Writer Rusty Marks can  be reached at 304-415-1480 or email at rmarks@statejournal.com

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West Virginia Medical Marijuana Medical Marijuana Banking Holdup Cannabis Laws Mike Pushkin Governor Jim Justice