House Democrats want to fast-track economic cannabis study

A decriminalization bill is expected to be introduced in the near future

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Members of the House Democratic Caucus are feeling hopeful that recreational cannabis can be legalized in West Virginia. Democratic members of the group recently signed a letter prompting commerce Secretary Ed Haunch to kick-start an economic study into the plant’s economic impacts.

Legalizing cannabis for adult-use purposes in West Virginia would enable of-age consumers to legally buy and consume their bud in accordance with revised state laws. Representatives feel confident that legalization could trigger an economic whirlwind across the state, which is home to approximately two million people.

“I think what you’re seeing now is compared to year’s past, legislation which is getting bipartisan support,” said Delegate Shawn Fluharty. He says that legalization “means jobs for West Virginians; that means economic opportunities for West Virginians. It can start tomorrow, if we pass this legislation it would completely change the way our state runs.”

Fluharty wants lawmakers to take action this legislative session. Failure to do so, he says, could mean that West Virginians will miss out on an opportunity to be put first, while nearby states reap the rewards of cannabis legalization.

“An economic impact study is the first step in proving what we already know – West Virginians are ready for adult-use cannabis and expect our leaders to lead the way in providing jobs, revenue and a brighter future for our state,” added Fluharty.

Lawmakers previously requested that Gaunch explore economic effects of cannabis legalization in West Virginia

News of House Democratic Caucus members pushing Ed Haunch to conduct an economic impact study is not surprising, what with lawmakers asking the Secretary to conduct a similar study in the past. Lawmakers wanted Haunch to explore the prospective revenue that could be gleaned and jobs that could be created by launching a market for adult-use cannabis in West Virginia. 

As of February 2020, 10 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis. Established legal weed states – such as Colorado – are turning over as much as $1 billion in adult-use sales on an annual basis. Despite the economic potential, some Delegates are skeptical about legalizing recreational cannabis in West Virginia.

“Any type of drug use, legal or not, I think there’s always the potential for it to be abused. But then again on the other side of the coin, I think there’s the ability to relieve pain, and anxiety, and everything that cannabis does,” said Marshall County Chief Deputy Bill Helms. “At least let’s have the vote. Let’s have an up and down vote. Let’s put names to the green-light and red-light and get it done.”

Introduction of West Virginia’s cannabis decriminalization bill is imminent

A change in cannabis laws is certainly on the horizon for West Virginia, with a decriminalization bill expected to be introduced in the very near future. Based on a statement released by Delegate Sammi Brown, (D) Jefferson, a bill dubbed the “Normalizing Cannabis Act” could be confirmed any day now. The “Normalizing Cannabis Act” is an amended version of House Bill 3108; first introduced in 2019. 

What if we had something that put a big green light out there, no pun intended, that said come on home, and this might be it,” said Brown. Included in the bill she talks about is language focused on the legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes, as well as criminal justice reforms; such as the expungement of cannabis convictions. Expungement, she says, could aid former convicts in finding employment.

Brown believes that decriminalization could lure people to West Virginia. Her opinion is shared by Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, who says that legalizing recreational cannabis in West Virginia could “blow the lid off” on tourism. Considering the positive effect that legal weed has had on 420 tourism in places like Seattle and Portland, he makes a good point. 

Medical cannabis advocates are said to be supportive of the “Normalizing Cannabis Act”,  but it goes without saying that the plant must be de-stigmatized if everyone is to get on board with legal weed in West Virginia.