Support for legal cannabis at an all time high as West Virginia is poised to become the 29th State to legalize marijuana.
In August, 2016, the West Virginia Center for Policy and Budget published a report exploring the potential budgetary and economic impacts of legalizing marijuana in the state. The report’s findings helped make serious headway in the discussion for legalizing marijuana both for medicinal benefits, as well as to fix West Virginia’s estimated $300 million projected budget deficit in 2018. The report cited the shift in public opinion by indicating that 53% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, and 46% of West Virginians support a regulation of cannabis similar to that of alcohol.
The report’s key findings indicate that West Virginia’s legalization of recreational cannabis, could help the state capitalize on potential tax revenue estimated between $45 million for taxing cannabis at 25% of it’s wholesale price, and $194 million, if only 10% of marijuana users in surrounding states came to West Virginia to make cannabis purchases. Additionally, the report noted that West Virginia had spent nearly $17 million in 2010 enforcing its archaic marijuana laws, a figure that would outright disappear and convert itself to money in the bank after modernization of the cannabis laws.
With a dying coal industry being the backbone of the West Virginia economy for decades past, the report offered a glimpse of hope in something other than coal, with the remainder of the more than 25,000 jobs the state of Colorado was able to add following its legalization of recreational marijuana.
Finally, the report indicated that there might actually be potential for relief from the overwhelming opioid overdose deaths in West Virginia. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2015, West Virginia reported the highest rate of opioid related deaths in the country at 41.5 per 100,000. Another report published by US News for the year 2016, indicated that a staggering 86% of all deaths in West Virginia were found to involve at least one opioid. The hope is that by offering people a less addictive alternative to dealing with mental health issues, there would be less use of the deadly opioids, which are changing families every day.
In light of the information in the report, the legislature responded with a small step in the right direction. In March of 2017, the West Virginia senate passed SB386, which creates the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, by a vote of 24-6. Among other technical aspects, the bill changes the criminalization laws, establishes a commission to oversee the distribution of cannabis prescription cards, a fund to account for the pecuniary aspects of medical cannabis, and sets forth the justifications for which a West Virginia patient could receive a prescription to obtain cannabis.
In the bill approved by both chambers, patients could receive permission to legally use cannabis for any of the following conditions:
- A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition that results in a patient being admitted into hospice or receiving palliative care; or
- A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or the treatment of a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition that produces:
- Cachexia, anorexia, or wasting syndrome;
- Severe or chronic pain that does not find effective relief through standard pain medication;
- Severe nausea;
- Seizures; or
- Severe or persistent muscle spasms
One of the major provisions of the original bill allowed patients approved for medical cannabis, to grow up to two plants for personal use. The excitement surrounding this provision quickly faded, as the West Virginia House of Representatives altered the original bill to eliminate not only the two plant provision, but also to eliminate the ability to possess the plant in its flower form at all. The House version of the bill, which was approved by a vote of 76-24, makes it legal to possess cannabis with a valid prescription, but only if it is in the form of an oil, a pill, or a patch, and it also pushed the roll out date out by one year to 2019. The only concession regarding format was that an oil based version could legally be incorporated into a baked product if baked personally by the prescription holder.
Another loss levied against the potential patients, was the house’s elimination of patients with PTSD as an approved class, which could offer relief to both the self-medicating facet of those suffering from the disease of addiction, as well as those attempting unsuccessfully to deal with their mental health issues through standard medications available at the present time.
West Virginians are meeting the bill with mixed emotions. On one hand, they are hopeful, as it is most definitely a step in the right direction, and the legislature has manifested its intent to work hard to improve the program in next year’s legislative session. On the other hand, there is concern that major pharmaceutical companies will take advantage of the situation, and do permanent damage to the movement in the state. Only time will tell, but at least the country seems to be moving beyond the demonization of this miraculous plant, and its undiscovered potential to improve the lives of people suffering around the world.