Editor’s note: The following open letter to members of the state’s governmental leadership was forwarded to the Herald for publication.
I am writing you, gentlemen, in the middle of a teachers’ walkout, the brink of a work stoppage by all state employees, and, quite frankly, a statewide general strike. Our government is in turmoil due to a paralysis of leadership caused by lobbyists and election year politics. Central to this crisis is a lack of vision — a condition our state has suffered from for over a century. It is time for new ideas and new solutions. As you are aware since last year’s legislation, industrial hemp production is legal under special permits in our state and limited medical marijuana grow permits will be issued prior to July 2019, however, the real benefit for the West Virginia economy is for our state to be the first movers in the Mid-Atlantic Region to legalize recreational marijuana. Adult-use legalization of cannabis represents an excellent opportunity for the benefit of West Virginia farmers, the tourism industry, and the tax revenue needed to solve the public employee crisis. HB4491 is written and awaiting consideration in Speaker Armstead’s chamber. Let cannabis pay for PEIA and real salary increases.
I would like to share with you an amazing achievement in Colorado last fiscal year. Since legalization of marijuana in 2014 the State of Colorado has officially collected $500 million in taxes. At that state’s taxation rates that represents over $1 billion in sales for Colorado farmers. But what does this mean on a qualitative basis for the individuals and communities of our state? I found this article (http://www.king5.com/news/local/marijuanas-boost-in-city-where-timber-was-king/460983159) from the Puget Sound of Washington concerning the human issues of the legal marijuana industry. Quite frankly, you will find that both proponents and opponents are thankful that their decimated timber community has been saved by this industry. Cannabis is West Virginia’s new billion dollar industry and the sooner we embrace and brand ourselves the better for our farmers and our rural communities.
From the quantitative side, the West Virginia Center on the Budget and Policy also has an excellent report and presentation on their website (http://www.wvpolicy.org/modernizing_west_virginias_marijuana_laws_potential_benefits_of_decriminalization_medical_marijuana_and_legalization) explaining the profound impact that the legalization of recreational, medical, and industrial marijuana can have on the state’s budget crisis and the livelihoods of an estimated 14,000 West Virginians through their employment in some aspect of the cannabis industry. As per the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, our state is located within a 500-mile radius of over 50% of the population of the United States and given the federal prohibition on the transportation of cannabis across state lines, marijuana consumed in West Virginia must be produced in the state and the product, as demonstrated in Colorado and Washington State, will act as a tremendous tourist draw. At taxation levels of 25% per ounce, the estimated state tax revenues would amount to $194 million and, therefore, represents $776 million in retail sales and $271 million in farm sales per annum. It is not clear how much revenue will be generated from hotels, restaurants, and destinations catering to the needs of out-of-state visitors but what we do know is that every year since Colorado’s legalization that their cannabis tourism has grown and that the state in 2014 had 71.3 million visitors and tourism revenue of $18.6 billion. In comparison, West Virginia in 2014 had $4.5 billion in revenues.
During my speech in the Rotunda for the last legislative session, I made the argument that we no longer have coal or timber or chemicals or steel or Senator Robert C. Byrd for our billion dollar industry and with the forcefulness of an Appalachian preacher I thundered: “Marijuana is and must be our new billion dollar industry! It is about our hope, our survival, and our humanity!”
We can either sell ourselves to the Chinese or Mountaineers can remain free and cultivate our fields and gardens as God intended in the Bible. It is time for the Legislature to pass HB4491!
Marijuana & WV