House Democrats call for West Virginia to legalize cannabis
Steven Allen Adams
From left, Delegates Mike Pushkin, Shawn Fluharty, Sammie Brown and Mick Bates talk about legislation dealing with cannabis. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)
CHARLESTON — Democratic members of the House of Delegates said Wednesday that if the state legalizes and regulates cannabis use, the state won’t have to beg for border counties in other states to join West Virginia.
They’ll willingly come, the lawmakers said.
Delegates Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, and Sammie Brown, D-Jefferson, spoke to reporters Wednesday about bills dealing with legalizing and taxing marijuana, decriminalizing and expunging convictions for marijuana possession and making continued tweaks to the state’s medical cannabis program which has yet to issue a permit.
Fluharty, referring to efforts by Republican lawmakers and Gov. Jim Justice to invite Virginia counties and cities to vote to join West Virginia, said legalizing recreational marijuana would make the state more appealing.
“We heard a press conference from our governor and how he wants to bring people into West Virginia. It was a bit of a fairy tale,” Fluharty said. “We have actual pieces of legislation that Democrats have introduced for years now that will actually bring people to West Virginia. Since the time that legislation has been introduced years ago, nearly 60,000 West Virginians have left our state.”
Fluharty said legalizing marijuana would have major economic benefits to the state. According to a 2018 study by the congressional Joint Economic Committee, the industry brought in $8 billion in 2017 and is estimated to bring in $23 billion by 2023. More than 120,000 are employed by the marijuana industry.
“We have continued to turn our back on the fastest growing industry in the entire country,” Fluharty said. “Those are jobs that could go to West Virginians and bring people from Virginia to West Virginia to live here, to work, to put West Virginia families first and build for their future.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 11 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized small quantities of cannabis for personal use, though none of West Virginia’s surrounding states have done so.
Bates is the lead sponsor of House Bill 2321, which would legalize the sale, production and adult consumption of cannabis. It would give counties the option to allow marijuana sales or production by a vote of the people.
The Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau of Health would regulate recreational marijuana. The bill would also allow for excise and local sales taxes on the legalized product.
Speaking Wednesday, Bates was quick to push back against those who say the bill would create a wild west for drug use.
“I’m not personally, nor are our House Democrats, in favor of recreational marijuana,” Bates said. “What we are in favor of is the decriminalization for personal possession and consumption, the regulation and the taxation of cannabis.”
HB 2321 was introduced Jan. 8 on the first day of the 2020 legislative session and was sent to the House Health and Human Resources Committee, but has not been taken up by the committee. During a Jan. 23 floor session in the House, Democratic lawmakers attempted to discharge the bill from the committee so House members could vote on it, but the motion was tabled in a 54-41 vote.
Bates said even if the House Health and Human Resources Committee takes up the bill, it still has to go through the House Finance and Judiciary committees. Triple-referenced bills often don’t make it through the legislative process, which Bates called the “kiss of death.”
“It has no opportunity to be considered fully,” Bates said. “We believe that the votes are there; that if this bill came to the floor, a number of our Republican colleagues would join with us, because it’s not a Democrat or Republican issue. It is a bipartisan issue.”
Another bill soon to be introduced by Brown would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. According to the Conference of State Legislatures, 26 states have decriminalized marijuana at the state level, turning marijuana possession into a civil or local infraction. Two surrounding states, Maryland and Ohio, have decriminalized possession. Ohio’s decriminalization effort turned marijuana possession into a low-level misdemeanor with no jail time involved.
According to statistics cited by Brown, there were 4,400 arrests for simple marijuana possession in West Virginia in 2010. Since then, FBI statistics show that number has dropped to 2,533 arrests for possession in 2016. In West Virginia, simple possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor resulting in a $1,000 fine and a sentence of anywhere between 90 days or up to six months. Brown said current state law disproportionally affects the black community.
“It is the impoverished black and brown communities that are incarcerated,” Brown said. “We’re saying unequivocally that we are a state that welcomes all here regardless of what you use to medicate.”
West Virginia already has a medical cannabis program. Senate Bill 386, the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, was signed into law on April 19, 2017. But the state is still years from being able to issue the first medical cannabis cards.
The Office of Medical Cannabis started accepting permit applications for those wishing to grow, process and dispense medical cannabis to patients with valid prescriptions last month. The permit period closes at 3 p.m. Feb. 18, but it could take up to six months before the first permits are approved and into 2021 before patients can receive certification to use medical cannabis.
Pushkin has introduced several amendments to the Medical Cannabis Act, including allowing for cannabis that can be smoked, cannabis flour and edibles and allowing patients to grow up to 10 plants. Another bill would deal with reciprocity between West Virginia and other states with medical cannabis laws.
“We should be able to enter into reciprocity agreements with neighboring states that are doing this a lot quicker and a lot better than West Virginia is right now,” Pushkin said. “We want people from Virginia to move here, so let’s fix this so we can get people from all over the country to move here.”
Steven Allen Adams can be reached at [email protected]
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CHARLESTON — Democratic members of the House of Delegates said Wednesday that if the state legalizes and regulates cannabis use, the state won’t have to beg
West Virginia Marijuana Laws
Although West Virginia has historically been opposed to any type of legalization, recently it passed a bill that allows seriously ill patients to legally access and use marijuana for medical purposes. Learn more about West Virginia marijuana laws below.
Recreational Marijuana in West Virginia
Is marijuana legal in West Virginia? No, possession of any amount of marijuana in West Virginia is a misdemeanor, punishable by 90 days to 6 months in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000. Compared to other states where marijuana is illegal, West Virginia’s policy is relatively lenient. The state also can offer conditional discharge for first time offenders found in possession of less than 15 grams. Discharge is not a legal conviction.
Medical Marijuana in West Virginia
West Virginia became the 29th U.S. state to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes after Gov. Jim Justice signed into law a comprehensive medical marijuana bill in April 2017. The Medical Cannabis Act (Senate Bill 386) allows patients suffering from 15 conditions to apply for a card with permission from a licensed physician.
Initially, the law allowed patients to obtain marijuana in the form of pills, oils, topicals, tinctures, liquid, dermal patch, or non-whole plant forms that are administered with a vaporizer only. In March 2020, Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill allowing sales of “dry leaf or plant form” marijuana. Home cultivation of marijuana plants are prohibited.
Under West Virginia’s law, the following conditions qualify for the use of medical marijuana:
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
- Crohn’s Disease
- Huntington’s Disease
- Intractable Seizures
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Severe Chronic or Intractable Pain
- Sickle Cell Anemia
- Spinal Cord Damage with Intractable Spasticity
- Terminal Illness
Consumption of CBD Hemp Oil in West Virginia
Hemp-derived CBD products are legal under Federal Law in the United States; however, individual state laws are dynamic and fluid. Individual states may enact their own laws governing hemp-derived CBD.
Cultivation of Cannabis in West Virginia
Cultivation of marijuana in West Virginia is a criminal offense. Punishments vary based on the size of the grow, as well as whether the grow is characterized as possession or possession with the intent to distribute.
West Virginia has legalized the cultivation of hemp by licensed growers. In 2002, the West Virginia Legislature approved Senate Bill 447 to recognize hemp containing no more than 1 percent THC as an agricultural crop. Since the federal legalization of commercial hemp in December 2018, West Virginia has had its hemp program proposal approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.West Virginia’s hemp law allows farmers to grow, harvest and sell the plant commercially.
Legal Status of Other U.S. States
Stay up to date on the latest state legislation, referendums, and public opinion polls. Our Marijuana Legalization Map allows you to browse the current status of medical and recreational marijuana laws in other U.S. states and territories.
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With more states legalizing the use of marijuana it can be hard to stay up to date on West Virginia marijuana laws. Click to learn more about marijuana laws in WV!