The West Virginia Legislature tried tinkering with the state’s medical cannabis law in this year’s session. The Senate passed legislation, but the House of Delegates didn’t agree, so nothing changed.
But change is coming. Probably not next year, but sooner or later there will be serious proposals to decriminalize or legalize recreational marijuana in the state.
It might be framed as a matter of liberty and personal freedom. Or maybe it’s a matter of having the right priorities in law enforcement. Or it’s a matter of possibly millions of dollars in tax revenue. Choose any or all.
According to an Associated Press article last week, several states, most recently New Mexico and Virginia, have taken steps since the November elections to legalize marijuana sales for adult recreational use. Others, including New York, New Jersey and Arizona, have also gone that route. And more states are expected to follow suit, according to the AP.
Sixteen states allow marijuana sales to adults now. Including illicit and medical marijuana sales, financial analysts expect the total market for cannabis in the U.S. will climb to $80 billion by 2025 from a projected $65 billion this year, according to the AP.
And now Congress is considering legislation that would make it easier for cannabis companies to do business in states where sales are legal.
In the not-so-distant past, all forms of gambling were illegal in West Virginia except at race tracks. Then in the 1980s we followed the lead of our neighboring states and allowed a state-run lottery. Then came limited video lottery, which was an effort by the state to capture revenue that was going into illegal activity. Now we have casinos and other forms of gambling with who knows what more to come. What was once a sin tolerated in secret is now a big business and a big moneymaker for government.
The debate over recreational marijuana is coming, whether most West Virginians want it or not. It will likely come from Generation X or a younger generation. A number of Baby Boomers would like to see it, but there is enough resistance in that generation to prevent debate for now unless the tax revenue is irresistible.
As soon as Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland or Pennsylvania allows recreational marijuana use, demand for it in West Virginia will grow to the point that legislators will have to address it.
Maybe before this class of kindergarteners is out of high school, convenience stores will be selling marijuana just as they do lottery, alcohol, tobacco and vaping products.
West Virginians with strong opinions either for or against legalizing recreational marijuana had better get their arguments ready, because they will need them.