Upshur County Development Authority Executive Director Rob Hinton asks council to draft a letter in support of two businesses that want to produce medical marijuana in Upshur County.

City council agrees to support medical marijuana production

BUCKHANNON – The City of Buckhannon on Thursday pledged to write letters in support of two medical marijuana businesses looking to establish their headquarters in Upshur County.

Upshur County Development Authority Executive Director Rob Hinton asked Buckhannon City Council members at Thursday’s meeting to author letters outlining their support of the two companies.

Both are both currently in the process of applying for growing, processing and dispensing permits from the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health’s Office of Medical Cannabis. Although Hinton did not name the companies, one hopes to locate in the Brushy Fork Road, and a second wants to move into the old Armory along U.S. Route 20, he said.

New Harvest Botanicals owners Jason and Jamie Queen told My Buckhannon in January that they are partnering with another Baltimore, Maryland-based CBD expert to apply as Armory Pharmaceuticals for permits to grow and process medical marijuana at the armory on U.S. Route 20 South.

Hinton explained the city’s support – like the county’s – is a separate issue from cannabis’s legality in the State of West Virginia. As a result of a bill passed by the state Legislature in 2017, as of July 1, 2019, cannabis may be used for certified medical purposes by West Virginia residents with serious medical conditions.

“This isn’t about whether it’s legalized or not legalized – the state’s already made that decision,” Hinton said. “My issue tonight, is, do we want to be bold? Do we want to do what we normally do, which is try and stay ahead of the curve of everyone else and be a home for these jobs?”

One of the two businesses interested in locating in Upshur County estimated it would bring about 100 jobs with a $20-per-hour starting salary – and Hinton tried to put that in perspective.

“It is not every day that the development authority gets inquiries from companies that would potentially bring 100 jobs to the area,” he said. “It is also not every day that we get inquiries from companies that [have set] the minimum pay at $20 an hour with an average annual pay of $65,000. These are life-changing jobs, given that the annual salary here, per capita, is $20,000, and $40,000 per household.”

“The development authority’s goal, obviously, is to increase the quality and number of jobs throughout Upshur County and the City of Buckhannon, and it is well apparent the extractive industries have been on the decline from the standpoint of oil and gas and the extraction of coal for quite some time, and we’ve got to figure out a way to diversify our economy,” he added. “We’ve got to bring better-paying jobs into the community, and this does solve that from the standpoint of adding jobs and adding new industries and diversifying the economy.”

Industrial hemp and medical-grade marijuana manufacturing are relatively new industries, Hinton said, noting that 33 other states have passed legislation legalizing medical marijuana.

“That’s roughly 66 percent of the country, and at the federal level, one CBD-containing (cannabidiol) medicine has been approved through the FDA, and three additional thereafter have been approved for clinical trials,” Hinton said. “If you look at that trend, we can kind of predict that the FDA is going to move into a space where, at some point, clinical trials [of medical marijuana] will occur.”

Hinton said he believes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will, within the next five years, approve and certify a medical cannabis product.

“You’re watching an entire industry evolve,” he said. “You’re seeing a new industry pop up that makes available new types of medication. For our purpose, in Buckhannon, we need to take advantage of the current opportunity to create manufacturing jobs.”

Hinton said if Buckhannon and Upshur County don’t welcome such manufacturers, “the stark reality is, they’re going to find a home somewhere else.”

“These jobs are going to go someplace,” mayor David McCauley agreed. “It’s going to happen, so the question is whether Buckhannon and Upshur County want to be in on the ground floor.”

Councilman CJ Rylands said he was in favor of the idea, too.

“I think we’re open for business,” Rylands remarked. “This is a legal enterprise, and it’s state-sanctioned, and I’m all for welcoming any company that wants to locate in our area.”

McCauley said pending city attorney Tom O’Neill’s review of the letter, council could, that evening, authorize him to sign and send the requested letters.

Councilman Robbie Skinner made a motion authorizing McCauley to sign letters of support from the city which was seconded by councilman David Thomas prior to passing unanimously.

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