Could West Virginia be the latest state to relax its marijuana laws? Democratic lawmakers there are sending signals that they are ready.
One such legislator, state Delegate Sammi Brown, said that she intends to re-introduce a version of a bill she offered up in last year’s session that aims to “normalize” cannabis.
“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,” Brown said, as quoted by local television station WOWK.
According to the station, the new bill “will focus on criminal justice reforms and de-stigmatizing cannabis by expunging certain possession charges and work towards non-criminal adult use,” with Brown’s ultimate hope of luring people to West Virginia.
Her bill introduced last year, titled the “Normalization of Cannabis Act,” would have, among other things, allowed adults aged 21 and older to “use, grow, possess, transport, and give away cannabis and homemade cannabis products,” so long as it was strictly for personal use.
It is unclear whether Brown’s new legislation will retain all of the same provisions as last year’s proposal.
What is clear is that the forthcoming bill will face opposition in West Virginia’s legislature, where both chambers are controlled by Republicans.
GOP Delegate Tom Fast told WOWK that “to just simply say something is no longer going to be illegal I think is very imprudent, if we were going to take that route, why wouldn’t we just decriminalize heroin and any other drug.”
West Virginia legalized medical cannabis in 2017, though the law’s rollout was beset by a number of regulatory delays.
Decriminalization, Legalization, and Debate
States throughout the country have turned toward decriminalization and outright legalization of marijuana. This year, a number of states—from conservative South Dakota to liberal New York—will consider whether to become the latest to legalize recreational pot use.
In West Virginia, some Democrats like Brown are amenable to moving in that direction, as well. Democrat Tim Miley, the minority leader in West Virginia’s House of Delegates, said this week that he has called on state Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch, a Republican, to study the potential economic impact of legal weed.
“We don’t know so why wouldn’t we want to know that number and that data to drive our decision-making,” Miley told MetroNews, a local news organization in West Virginia. “Number 2, clearly, other states are getting on board with that.”
Eleven states, most recently Illinois, have lifted the prohibition on recreational pot use—a dramatic shift that began in 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington approved legalization proposals at the ballot box.
“We really don’t hear of anything negative happening those states, at least from a national level,” Miley said. “It’s not much different than alcohol and the health effects it can cause or smoking cigarettes.”