By JAKE ZUCKERMAN

HD Media

The West Virginia Legislature passed a bill Monday intended to sweeten the economic landscape for businesses in the state's medical marijuana business.

Senate Bill 1037 removes restrictions on growers and processors that would have prevented them from serving as dispensaries as well.

Other changes include:

n Rolling back a requirement that a doctor be present in a dispensary at all times;

n Requiring an applicant for a license be a resident of the state. If the applicant is a business, a majority interest must be held by West Virginia residents;

n Increasing the amount of dispensaries in the state and the number of dispensaries one person may hold;

n Creating legal protections for state employees involved in the program;

n Eliminating geographic restrictions on permit issuance;

n Removing language requiring physicians first consider noncannabis treatments "including treatments involving opioids" before issuing a certification to a patient.

The bill that passed would have favored integrated businesses - those acting as growers, processors and dispensers - over non-integrated businesses with a lower tax rate, according to Gov. Jim Justice's letter vetoing the bill.

The bill passed Monday solves this by taxing dispensaries a 10 percent "privilege tax."

The bill also allows the Department of Health and Human Resources to pre-register patients before the official July 1 date, when issuance was intended to begin. However, the executive director of the Office of Medical Cannabis said patients won't be able to obtain medical cannabis until at least October 2021, assuming there are no further road bumps. The Legislature had to pass a bill to fix the program's banking system earlier this year.

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