Bills to regulate the legal use of, taxation, and decriminalization of recreational marijuana are budding in the West Virginia House of Delegates, according to its Democratic members.
Minority lawmakers pushing the proposals held a press conference Wednesday morning. Del. Sammi Brown, a Democrat from Jefferson County, announced plans to introduce a bill to expunge criminal records related to charges for marijuana possession.
“It permits personal use for individuals that are 21 years of age and older, it will normalize the regulation of cannabis use, and it will provide transitional services to former cannabis offenders,” Brown said, of the so-called “Green Light Act.” “And for those that have previous records, it will expunge them.”
Brown said the language was in line with the Jobs and Hope initiative the Justice administration unveiled over the summer. The program aims to connect people in recovery from addiction to gainful employment. Part of that program involves clearing substance-related charges and reinstating revoked drivers licenses.
“If we're going to continue to have these conversations around this policy, then shouldn't we practice what we preach?” Brown said. “If we're going to expunge records, and we're asking for people to have second chances, then surely we should be able to do that on the issue.”
House Bill 2331 from Del. Mick Bates, D-Raleigh County, would similarly decriminalize, regulate and tax cannabis for adult use. Counties would opt in participating in recreational marijuana by a referendum.
Bates mentioned the same bill in remarks on the House floor last week. His bill faces a tough road to the House floor as it currently sits in the House Health and Resources Committee. It also has been referred to two other committees, Judiciary and Finance.
“I believe a majority of people in the House disagree with him and his leadership team,” Bates said of the Speaker of the House. “This bill is actually what West Virginia needs right now, to put west Virignians first and bring people back to our state. And [to] make it a place that people want to move to.”
Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw did not reply to a request for comment through the House Communications Director.
Democrats are also leading bills to allow for the medical sale of marijuana flowers, something Pennsylvania began permitting in June 2018. Another bill would expand on the types of medical conditions medical marijuana will be allowed to treat in West Virginia.
Rusty Williams is a patient advocate on the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, which was formed after the governor signed the Medical Cannabis Act in 2017.
“With the list of conditions currently accepted in the Medical Cannabis Act, it's very restrictive,” said Williams, who is also running for a seat in the House of Delegates. “So we've got people with a myriad of conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, palindromic, rheumatism, gastroparesis, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, there's a lot of issues that we know could be benefiting with cannabis, but right now they don't they just don't have access.”
Williams speaks from experience. Years before the Act’s passage, Williams faced an aggressive chemotherapy process to address his cancer.
“I had a 30% shot of making it,” he said. “So, I did what I needed to do, I illegally used cannabis to get through it. And I'm here today because of that decision.”
Williams said he will continue to lobby in support of bills to advance the access to marijuana for medical reasons. He estimated on Wednesday it will still take a couple years for the medical marijuana program to become fully functional. The state Department of Health and Human Resources was accepting applications for medical marijuana growers and sellers until mid-December.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.