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In a recent announcment, citizens are being warned about a uptick in “sweep-stakes” scams. According to an advisory given by the West Virginia Attorney General’s office, consumers need to be on guard when notified of winning a sweepstakes, especially those associated with the name of a legitimate company or government agency.

The attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division routinely receives word of the sweepstakes scam circulating in West Virginia, although it has noticed increased activity in recent weeks.

“Consumers can fall prey to sweepstakes scams as the ploy can appear very attractive — who doesn’t want to win money?” Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said. “However, it is important consumers verify the legitimacy of any win.”

Targeted consumers are told they have won a lottery or sweepstakes, but that they must pay the taxes or fees upfront in order to collect the prize. Those who send money lose it, as the impostor disappears and the winnings never arrive.

While there are contests that do award prizes, consumers must carefully verify the legitimacy of any win.

For instance, Publishers Clearing House, state lotteries and government agencies never require winners to pay money to receive their prize. That means potential winners should never agree to send cash, wire money or provide numbers associated with a credit/debit card or bank account.

Furthermore, Publishers Clearing House does not notify winners by phone, but instead by in-person visits or certified mail.

Winning a sweepstakes the consumer didn’t enter, being asked to pay upfront fees or taxes and being pressured to act immediately should all be red flags.

Consumers with questions or think they may have been victim to a sweepstakes scam can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-368-8808, the Eastern Panhandle Consumer Protection Office in Martinsburg at 304-267-0239 or visit the office online at www.wvago.gov.

West Virginia wildlife officials are hoping to bring back the bobwhite quail, which disappeared from the state in the late 1970s thanks to a combination of habitat destruction and harsh winters.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports wildlife officials think the birds are a good candidate for reintroduction at the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area - a 32,000 acre tract of former surface-mined land in Logan and Mingo counties acquired by the state Division of Natural Re- sources in 2015.

Quail need grassland and brushland to survive, and Tomblin has an extensive mosaic of grassy savannas that are a byproduct of the mine-reclamation process.

The agency reintroduced elk to the area in 2016. Now they are working to make a suitable habitat for quail.

“We noticed we were lacking in brood-rearing habitat,’’ said Wildlife Manager Logan Klingler. “A lot of the land here is covered with sericea lespedea, which is not good habitat for any kind of wildlife.’’

To thin out the dense growth, Klingler and his coworkers have sprayed sericea-infested fields with an herbicide designed to kill the invasive plant but leave other, more beneficial plants and grasses. In other areas, DNR workers have simply bulldozed undesirable vegetation and replaced it with clover, winter wheat and cold-season grasses, which provide good habitat for young quail.

To add food variety for the birds, Klingler said he wants to plant warm-season grasses like switchgrass, little bluestem and big bluestem.

Klingler also plans to plant blackberries as a place for the quail to escape predators.

“The blackberry bushes will grow up and form hedgerows that break up the big fields and provide great escape cover for quail,’’ he said.

Wildlife officials have a tentative agreement with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to trade wild turkeys, which West Virginia has in abundance, for wild quail.

The earliest the birds could arrive would be next spring. Even then, they will be kept off limits to hunters until a self-sustaining population is established.

Klingler is optimistic about the project.

“We think we’re going to have some really nice quail habitat here,’’ he said. “At the moment we’re working on about 50 acres. Eventually, we’d like to have about 500.’’

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced his office has affirmed concealed carry recognition with Virginia and six other states.

This means Virginia will continue to recognize concealed handgun licenses issued to West Virginians who are age 21 and older.

“Mountaineers are always free, and that includes the freedom to exercise their Second Amendment rights when traveling to other states,” Morrisey said. “This is a victory for gun owners and shows respect for concealed carry licenses between states.”

Each year, the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office engages in discussions with every state to ensure continued recognition of West Virginia’s concealed handgun licenses and explore the potential for expansion.

In addition to Virginia, the attorney general’s office also recently affirmed concealed carry reciprocity or recognition with

Alabama, Arizona, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee and Utah.

Recognition in Virginia, Arizona and Nebraska is limited to concealed carry licenses issued to adults age 21 and older. Those states do not recognize West Virginia’s provisional licenses as issued to ages 18 to 20 – a matter consistent with past years.

Provisional licenses are recognized in Alabama, Nevada, Tennessee and Utah.

Recognition from these states underscores the benefit of having a concealed carry license, as many states that allow West Virginians to carry concealed within their borders do so only on the basis of the person having a West Virginia concealed carry license.

Those wishing to obtain a concealed handgun license can do so by contacting their local sheriff’s office. For a full list of states and more information regarding West Virginia concealed handgun licenses, visit the gun reciprocity page at www.wvago.gov.

By Dave Mistch
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Despite legislation from 2017 that allowed cannabis to be legal for medical use on July 1 of this year, West Virginia officials say they’re still years away from the first sale. That’s - at least in part - because of a hangup with finding a banking solution to get around federal law. State health officials say they also have to implement permitting and licensing for patients and those who want to start businesses within the industry.

Late last month, the West Virginia Treasurer’s Office released a statement indicating that they were canceling and then reissuing a request for proposals for a depository associated with the medical cannabis program. An initial bid returned five applications, but none of the prospective banking vendors met all of the requirements.

Officials from the Treasurer’s Office say they are now in a black- out period and cannot comment on the bidding process until a banking vendor has been selected.

Del. Mike Pushkin, a Democrat from Kanawha County who has championed the legalization of cannabis, says the banking solution - which was spurred along through legislation that cleared in May - should push back the timeline another few months.

“It’s not such a big deal. These things happen a lot when we’re bidding out to vendors in state government - that people don’t meet all of the mandatory requirements of that bid. It’s not uncommon,’’ Pushkin said. “What’s uncommon is that it’s a bid that we’re watching so closely.’’

DHHR says first medical cannabis sale still two years away

But even if a banking vendor is awarded a contract in the next few months, officials from the state Department of Health and Human Resources say it could still be some time before cannabis is sold to patients.

“So, the Office of Medical Cannabis, or the OMC, continues to have a goal of two years from the time a banking solution is in place for patients with a serious medical condition to be able to obtain medical cannabis,’’ Office of Medical Cannabis director Jason Frame said.

Frame also points out that July 1 wasn’t a deadline or mandatory “go live’’ date for medical cannabis in West Virginia, but rather a statutory marker that opened the door for the program. He also said DHHR has its own work to get the program off the ground.

“We’re going to have a web-based permitting system,’’ Frame said. “We’re in contract right now, for the design of that system. We’re hiring staff, we’re implementing policy and procedures and designing those procedures.’’

Frame also said there’s other work to do to get products in the hands of patients.

“Industry is going to be built out. Physical buildings are going to be put in place. Of course, crops will have to be grown,’’ he said. With West Virginia’s medical cannabis law currently only allowing oils, creams and other non-smokable forms of the plant, Frame said it will take some time to process the active ingredients to be consumed within the scope of the law.

“They’ll have to be then processed into sellable products,’’ Frame said. “Patients won’t be able to buy the leaf form a medical cannabis - that’s part of the Act. So everything that’s grown will be processed into a sellable product.’’

Cannabis advocates question the program

But some advocates for the program say West Virginia’s medical cannabis law is weak.

Rusty Williams is the patient advocate on the program’s advisory board. The group - made up of health officials, law enforcement and others - reports recommendations to the Legislature and governor’s office.

Williams has a personal connection to his role on the advisory board. After being diagnosed with testicular cancer, he sought out medical cannabis as medicine for pain relief.

“We were tasked to look at whether or not to add conditions - add or remove conditions - to the accepted conditions list. We were charged with looking at whether or not to allow patients to be able to access whole plant flower,’’ Williams said of the medical cannabis advisory board. “And we were tasked with whether or not to allow businesses to vertically integrate. We met those charges two years early.’’

As Williams points out, the only recommendation that has been codified by lawmakers has been the vertical integration provision, which allows a single business to act as a grower, a processor and a distributor. An earlier version of the law would have limited that type of operation within the industry.

But, Williams says small improvements to a fundamentally flawed program haven’t been enough.

While he’s called for patients to be able to grow cannabis at home and use it how they see fit, he’s frustrated that what West Virginia law does allow hasn’t yet come to fruition.

“Why our lawmakers chose to go the route of, you know, pro- cessed pharmaceutical versions of cannabis? I have no idea. I can’t answer that,’’ he said. “It makes no sense to me, especially with the problems that we do have here with pharmaceuticals.’’

Legalization’s Vocal Opponent in West Virginia

Williams has also been bothered by what he considers obstructionist rhetoric from one of West Virginia’s federal prosecutors.

“It’s frustrating to know that there’s only one state in the country where we have a federal prosecuting attorney actively going after the cannabis industry,’’ he said.

Williams is referring to U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Mike Stuart.

The Trump-appointed prosecutor has been a vocal opponent of the legalization of cannabis, arguing that research is unclear on the drug’s potential benefits and drawbacks in a medical or recreational setting. But Stuart says he doesn’t make the law, he simply enforces it.

“I think, on this whole issue of marijuana, it’s pretty clear this is an issue of public policy that’s going to be solved by public officials - whether that’s Congress or other folks who have the authority to do that. My job as a U.S. attorney is to enforce federal law,’’ Stuart said.

But last month, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted an amendment to a federal appropriations bill that would prohibit the Department of Justice from interfering with state cannabis programs. The bill still needs to clear the Senate, but since December 2014 Congress has blocked the Justice Department from targeting businesses and individuals in states where cannabis is legal.

Still yet, Stuart says he will look at things on a case by case basis and would prosecute as necessary.

“It’s not as simple as saying ‘Because it’s related to medicinal marijuana, there’s no enforcement, prescription pharmaceuticals are legal,’’’ Stuart said.

“Oxycontin under the right circumstances is illegal. It is legal - however, if there is a pharmacist or a doctor that is misprescribing those drugs in a way that is not medically necessary or medically ethical, we prosecute those folks all the time. So, there’s no area of the law that says that there won’t be enforcement when there are abuses,’’ he added.

DHHR, treasurer’s office move forward, but advocates want quicker rollout

Regardless of Stuart saying he will keep a close eye on the rollout of the medical cannabis program, the state treasurer and the DHHR appear to be moving forward. Pushkin, though, says he hopes health officials get to work quickly in terms of permitting and licensing.

“I don’t understand why they would have to wait for the banking program to be in place for them to at least put out the applications, start issuing cards to patients,’’ Pushkin said. “We put something in that bill that would allow for reciprocity for patients - foreseeing that there could be some hiccups along the way.’’

For now, patients here can legally acquire medical cannabis in other states - but only the acceptable forms under the West Virginia law.

Frame and others at DHHR say they are working diligently to get their processes in place for those who want to enter the industry or use cannabis for medical purposes without traveling out of state.

“We are definitely sympathetic to their concerns. And we appreciate the support from the governor’s office - and also the hard work that’s been done in the legislature to put a workable form of the medical cannabis act out there,’’ Frame said. “However, it is complicated. There’s a lot of provisions and a lot of complications that go along with that process. But everyone involved has been working hard to roll out products as soon as possible.’’

The state treasurer’s office says they have shortened the bidding timeline for potential banking vendors from six weeks to four and a half weeks to expedite the process.

Bids will be accepted through July 31.

God Bless the beautiful First Lady
Sen. Joe Manchin, Gov. Jim Justice, First Lady Melania Trump, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito at roundtable discussion on opioids.

First Lady Melania Trump visited West Virginia last Monday to learn how Huntington, a city at the center of the nation’s opioid epidemic is grappling with the crisis.

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee hosted the first lady and Acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan to show how West Virginia is developing innovative solutions to fight the opioid epidemic.

Joining them was U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) who participated with them in a roundtable discussion with community leaders and federal, state and local officials at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. “I am here to give you my support,’’ Trump told participants in the roundtable discussion.

West Virginia has the country’s highest fatal opioid overdose rate and has struggled, like many other states, to confront the many aspects of the problem. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams characterized it as a grim task.

“If not another gram of heroin is distributed, if not another gram of heroin is sold, we will be dealing with this issue for the next four or five decades,’’ he said.

Huntington is the epicenter of America’s opioid epidemic. With only about 50,000 residents, Huntington and Cabell County experienced 1,831 overdoses in 2017 with 183 of those overdoses resulting in death. Since then, after the hard work of local, state and federal officials, Huntington has seen a 50 percent drop in overdose deaths.

The First Lady asked how the crisis is hurting children and was told about research on babies born addicted to opioids and about addicted teens who need a different system of care. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin described the challenges that arise when kids are taken from addicted parents and placed into foster care.

The First Lady also spoke separately with a small group that included the city’s fire chief and the head of a medical center that specializes in caring for babies born addicted to drugs.

“We are looking forward to working on the problems West Virginia is facing with the opioid crisis,’’ she told them.

Later in the day they met with Cabell County drug court participants and administrators and toured the Marshall University Digital Forensic Lab. The lab provides critical forensic testing services to criminal justice systems in West Virginia and throughout the country.

A legal complaint filed against the Grant County Circuit Court and the Grant County Commission concerning the public’s access to files was dismissed last month; however, the complainant did get his $5 back.

The complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief was filed by Jay Lawrence Smith who, in his filings, referred to himself as a “freelance legal researcher and journalist” out of Charleston.

Following a lengthy drug investigation conducted by Sheriff B. Ours, James Clark Long, 42, of Petersburg was indicted for drug distribution.

During last week’s Grant County Commission meeting, Eastern Allegheny Council for Human Services (EACHS) Head Start discussed a plan to further increase student safety by linking their security system cameras to the Grant County 911 Center.

Gary Redman of the EACHS program appeared before the commission to address how best to move forward with the partnership between the local emergency management and 911 office and to request support from the commission to link the security systems.

The EACHS Head Start is a federally funded education program that operates in the region, serving approximately 267 children. The program focuses on providing support for low income families but serves a broad range of preschool age children. Redman explained that the program works closely with the schools in the area, including Grant County schools, but is a separate entity from any of the county systems.

Douglas J. Carter
Carter in front of the PVTA’s newly named J. Douglas Carter Operations Center.

After a recent decision from their board, the Potomac Valley Transit Authority is now officially operating out of the J. Douglas Carter Operations Center, located in Petersburg.

While the headquarters of the program has not moved, the agency decided to change the name of their existing building to honor long-time former directer, Carter.

“So much of what the program is now, is due to the hard work and dedication of J.,” explained current director, Doug Pixlar. “We wanted to recognize him for that and ensure we always keep those principles he stands for in our minds.”

Pixlar is the former executive director of the Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority in Martinsburg

Carter officially retired earlier this year after first beginning with the agency in 1977.

Pixlar explained that, under Carter’s leadership, the PVTA was able to expand its transportation options and open up new and often necessary routes to ensure local citizens could safely and reliably travel.

This is a goal that Pixlar has also expressed, with new routes recently announced including assisting those in need of travel to the Russ Hedrick Recovery and Resource Center.

This month, they also introduced a Petersburg Ready Ride Service, which allows individuals to schedule a ride with the service to take them nearly anywhere in their service area.

Pixlar explained that this service would play a key role in increasing transportation throughout the county.

The Grant County Commission responded to two citizens last week about ongoing questions concerning the appointment of the Grant County Clerk, attorney usage, voting in the county and commission transparency.
Commissioners Doug Swick and Jeff Berg were in attendance at the meeting, which was held on Jan. 22.
The first citizen to appear before the commission was Jane Kite Keeling, who came to express multiple concerns.

PLEASE NOTE: This is a recording of a portion of the Grant County Commission meeting that was held on Dec. 22.
I generally record most of the public meetings I attend when a member of the community is set to speak or when an explanation of financials is on the agenda.
Generally, I do not record more mundane sections of these meetings as I am able to keep up with solely handwritten notes and often do not include quotes from general county/city/board business.
However, accuracy is very important to me, especially when it is a citizen there to speak - and this is often when I want to include as many quotes as possible to allow them to convey their message in their own words.
That being said, all the recordings are generally for my own use and had I known the complexity of this meeting, I absolutely would have recorded the meeting in its entirety, as opposed to starting at the first speaker.
Given the passionate tone this meeting took and the large amount of discussion and explanations that were presented during it, I feel it is best to make the recording available to our readers so they can review it themselves.
Listening to the meeting, as opposed to reading the words off the page (or screen) gives a much more accurate view of the tone of the meeting.

Prior to the first speaker on the recording (Alicia Reel, who is reporting the county finances through the county clerk’s office) the commission approved previous minutes, heard a simple budget request re Sandia Glasscock from the Health Department and spoke with JoAnn Harman about hiring an assistant librarian.

Approximate Time Stamps:

Alicia Reel speaks on the county budget until the 2:17:00 mark.
Jane Kite Keeling addresses the commission from 2:18:00 until 8:43:00
The commission (and later the County Clerk) responds to Keeling starting at 8:43:00
Jill Long addresses the commission at 17:42
The commission responds to Long at 20:00:00
Debbie Anderson speaks to the commission concern water clean-up at 29:30:00
The recording ends as Anderson finishes


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News Editor - Erin Camp;
Advertising Manager - Tara Warner Pratt; 
Graphic Designer - Jesse Hedrick;
Print Shop Manager - Richard Knight; 
Bookkeeping - Peggy Hughes;
Circulation - Mary Simmons

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