Marijuana Legislation is debated at Lookahead panel

Legislation of Marijuana panelist debate the pros and cons of the drug.

Tom Jenkins

Legislation of Marijuana panelist debate the pros and cons of the drug.

Marijuana in the coming year could be the most controversial and talked about issue on the West Virginia Legislature’s already large list of issues. It has already been a very controversial topic with different states debating on whether or not they should pass either a medical or recreational law, and how they will do it.

Panelists addressed the West Virginia press Feb. 3 to discuss the possibility of marijuana becoming a regulated substance. At points, it became more of a debate on whether or not marijuana could actually benefit the state.

This debate addressed the possible financial benefits, how it will affect the drug epidemic and, most importantly, how it could affect the children of West Virginia.

The panel seemed to be equally split, with two clear supporters of legislation on marijuana and two against the idea, with one panelist stating it all depends on the person using the drug.

Delegate Mike Pushkin is a supporter of the idea of passing marijuana legislation and he cites that the financial benefits are something West Virginia is not utilizing.

“It is a multimillion dollar business in West Virginia,” Pushkin said. “And currently we see absolutely zero of the revenue from it.”

Pushkin last year introduced a bill that would decriminalize marijuana as a way of tackling the budget deficit the state faced last year. Pushkin said the legislature had two options — raise taxes or cut back on essential programs, which he says would hurt many people in the state.

In 2015, the Colorado Department of Revenue reported that after the initial legalization of marijuana, the tax on marijuana surpassed the alcohol taxes in the fiscal year. The state ended up making just short of $70 million in marijuana taxes.

Ed Shemelya of the National Marijuana Initiative, was the main counter-argument for the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana. The majority of his argument was centered around the effect the drug would have on the youth of West Virginia.

Shemelya cited a statistic saying that West Virginia was forty-first in marijuana use for teens ages twelve to seventeen.

“Usage rates — I can guarantee that your usage rate with young people are going to go up,” Shemelya said. “That’s what is most concerning when states go down this route, the consequence is your usage rates go through the roof.”

Shemelya pointed out the fact that Colorado leads the nation in all three categories of age usage rates.

Danny Brag, a Marshall alumni, is with the organization “Green is the New Black.” His organization pushes for legislation for marijuana that can benefit the state of West Virginia.

His argument for the underage usage is that, if regulated, marijuana can be controlled just like alcohol sales are.

“I’d be willing to bet if I gave a 15 or 16-year-old kid $50 and said go get me a bottle of Bacardi or go get me weed, I would say a majority of the time that high school student would find it easier to find marijuana than it be to go to Rite-Aid and buy a bottle of liquor,” Bragg said.

West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R) also addressed the issue.

“I’ve sponsored legislation for medical marijuana. Not recreational, not decriminalization, not legalization, but medical marijuana,” Carmichael said. “And my reasoning for that is simply compassion when you’re confided with those who have received benefit. With cancer patients, that is the only mechanism for nourishment, or PTSD, it helps them with their appetite and it relieves some of the symptoms there and for patients.”

For now, there doesn’t seem to be any clear stance for West Virginia, but with a Republican-majority senate and no clear stance from new Gov. Jim Justice, it could be a long time before West Virginia sees actual legislation on marijuana.

Carmichael later added that, “There was zero chance of marijuana making it through the legislature.” 

Tom Jenkins can be contacted at [email protected]