Last year West Virginia’s cannabis community saw cannabis legislation bricked at the very end of the session. The bills HB 4345 and SB 386 both became nothing more than a car on cinder blocks.
Since then, the cannabis community has organized and worked hard in the months leading up to the 2019 legislative session. As of today, a new banking bill, HB 2538, awaits in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The cannabis community came together last week and again this week and started calling all committee members to voice why they wanted the bill passed. Without this bill, West Virginia’s medical cannabis program will only continue to be delayed.
A Facebook group called 2019 WV Statewide Digital Rally 4 Reform tracks bills, posts the contact information of committee members, and sends out a call to action when legislators need encouragement from constituents across the state.
The group is currently tracking 21 cannabis related bills, in addition to the banking bill, which include bills to decriminalize cannabis, expunge criminal records of those with cannabis convictions, fix the medical cannabis program and even legalizing adult use of recreational cannabis. HB 3108, decriminalizes/legalizes cannabis and allows citizens to grow their own cannabis and expunge records back to 1937 when the cannabis prohibition started, and more.
Citizens of Salem, WV will vote on cannabis decriminalization throughout the city limits in June, 2019. If the vote passes, Salem will be the first city in West Virginia to decriminalize cannabis.
There are several reasons why many West Virginians want to see cannabis legislation pass within this state. When you start looking at our state’s 19 percent poverty rate, the conditions of our roads, our education system, our six consecutive years of population decline and the opioid epidemic, it becomes a lot easier to see that we need this as a state. West Virginia needs a new industry and needs a safer way to medicate without devastating side effects.
Across the nation, and even at the federal level, we are seeing cannabis legislation spreading like a wildfire. In 2018, Pennsylvania became the first state to begin using cannabis to treat opioid addiction. In 2014, when Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, the state saw a six percent increase in home value. Colorado gained 18,000 jobs in 2015, a year after legalization.
In the cannabis community, we will continue to speak out for cannabis rights for all of West Virginia because it’s the right thing to do. Some refer to cannabis as a gateway drug. As Rusty Williams, patient advocate on the WV medical cannabis advisory board, explained to me, it is a gateway drug. Cannabis is the gateway that can lead us out of poverty, help us get addicts into recovery, reduce the use of opioids for patients, advance our public education programs, finally, fix our roads and, overall, make West Virginia a better place to live.
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