The West Virginia Legislature passed a bill two years ago legalizing the consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes. But no “weed” may yet be taken as medicine, because the administration of Governor Jim Justice has not been able to get the program under way.

The biggest part of the problem is that no bank is willing to provide financing to suppliers or providers of the product. This is because the federal government still makes consumption of cannabis illegal. Other states that have legalized the substance, either generally or for medical purposes, have creatively dodged this problem by establishing state-run banks. The operations of these banks are limited to marijuana financing. Establishing such a bank may require another law to be passed by the Legislature.

Meanwhile, support seems to be building in the Legislature to simply legalize the consumption of cannabis generally. The term for this used most is “recreational” marijuana. While I don’t think there is yet a majority in either house of the Legislature for general legalization, opposition to this is considerably muted from past years.

Governor Justice, in his “state of the state” address on January 9, said he was strongly opposed to the general legalization of marijuana. But that would make no difference, should a majority of each house of the Legislature coalesce in support of general legalization. A quirk in West Virginia’s constitution gives the Legislature the ability to override a gubernatorial veto by a simple majority vote, except for appropriations bills (including the budget bill). I personally think that’s pretty stupid, because all you need to override a veto is the same vote you had to get a bill to the governor’s desk in the first place. But that’s what we have unless and until the constitution is changed.

John Doyle—a Democratic member of the WV House of Delegates, representing District 67. Doyle was elected on November 6, 2018.

Pros vs. Cons

There are several arguments for general legalization. One is revenue. Estimates of the revenue the state might get from general legalization range from $70 million to $100 million per year, presuming a sales tax at the same rate as that in Colorado (which legalized general consumption of marijuana several years ago). This would come from West Virginians who would consume the product, and from tourists who are visiting the state.

A related argument is that some of West Virginia’s bordering states are likely to legalize the product for general consumption in the next few years. Should they do so, many West Virginians would visit those states to consume the product, giving the tax money to those states rather than to West Virginia.

A third argument is our state’s image. We are losing population primarily because young people don’t want to live in West Virginia. Our state is perceived, fairly or not, as “socially backward.” Legalizing the general consumption of marijuana would provide a major correction to that negative image. Not only would such a move help keep more of our bright young people here, it might help entice some others to move here.

The arguments against such legalization come primarily from law enforcement and from some of the more fundamentalist churches. I understand the hesitance of law enforcement professionals to endorse general legalization. Data collected from Colorado and other states that have already legalized general consumption of cannabis indicate that the percentage of automobile accidents has increased, in most cases in the mid to high single digits. But the percentage of fatal automobile accidents has actually declined.

Some speculate that consuming too much marijuana and then driving results in driving too slow for one’s own safety (and that of others) rather than too fast! The result would logically be more “fender-benders” but fewer serious wrecks. I don’t know about this being the reason for the statistics, because I haven’t seen any serious research on the matter (although there may be some about which I’m unaware). But the stats are indeed there.

On balance, I think the advantages of general legalization outweigh the disadvantages, so I support the idea.

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