CHARLESTON, W. Va. (Jan 19, 2023) – A bill introduced in the West Virginia House of Delegates would expand the state’s medical marijuana laws in the state despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Del. Danielle Walker (D) filed House Bill 2291 (HB2291) would expand the state’s medical marijuana program and remove cannabis from the state’s list of schedule 1 drugs.
The legislation would create a commercial incubator permit program. Language in the bill notes that the state medicinal cannabis program has “nullified” federal prohibition on medical marijuana.
“Medical cannabis is further recognized in this state, nullifying the federal schedule of cannabis as having no medical properties, and medical cannabis is recognized in 30 other states as having medical benefit, and West Virginia can be a leader in the development of certified seed stock for industrial hemp and medical cannabis strains and varieties, therefore a Special Business and Resident Incubator Permit program is created under the Commissioner of Agriculture to regulate what can be a vibrant industrial hemp and medical cannabis seed certification program.” [Emphasis added]
HB2291 would also create a seed program for medical cannabis and shield medical marijuana businesses in compliance with West Virginia law from being subject to civil asset forfeiture.
A second bill introduced by Walker at the same time would legalize the use of marijuana by adults 21 and over. House Bill 2091 (HB2091) would create a regulatory and tax scheme for retail cannabis businesses. Under the proposed law, adults could legally possess up to 1-ounce of marijuana. Cannabis would be regulated “in a manner similar to alcohol…”
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains a complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
West Virginia’s medical marijuana program removes one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place. The legalization of marijuana for adult use would wipe more state prohibition laws from the books. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. In 2021, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action, and Rhode Island legalized cannabis for adult use in 2022. With Missouri and Maryland legalizing marijuana in November, there are now 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 21 legalizing for adult recreational use.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations, or mandates down our throats.”
The expansion proposed of medical marijuana laws in West Virginia demonstrates another important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing cannabis, they tend to eventually expand. HB2291 serves as a perfect example of this tendency. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. This bill represents a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition. It also demonstrates an important strategic point. Passing bills that take a step forward sets the stage, even if they aren’t perfect. Opening the door clears the way for additional steps. You can’t take the second step before you take the first.
HB2290 was referred to the House Health and Human Resources Committee. HB2291 has been referred to the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee. Both bills will have to get a hearing and pass their respective committees by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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