Our state — like the rest of the country — has a health care crisis. Insurance costs are a huge burden. And it’s getting worse as our working-class population declines.
Our retirees are up in arms over rising prescription drug, Medicaid and Medicare costs. Our state employees are concerned — and vocal — about fixing and shoring up PEIA. And working-class West Virginians are upset at the ever-growing high cost of insurance products, monthly premiums and annual deductibles, on top of the fact we — those with insurance — are paying for the health care of those without.
It is time to fully legalize the marijuana, cannabis and hemp industry in West Virginia. We need to legalize the growth, cultivation, sale, possession and use of cannabis — both medicinal and recreational.
The state of Colorado, since it legalized marijuana in 2014, has surpassed $1 billion in total state revenue, just from the industry. Read that again: Colorado has amassed $1 billion in revenue in five years. West Virginia’s annual budget is about $4.5 billion dollars. This does not factor in the number of businesses and jobs the newly legalized industry has created.
Why is West Virginia’s legislative leadership not on board with this idea?
I understand the moral opposition to legalizing marijuana. I say this as someone who has never done drugs. Never tried them, aside from alcohol. I get it, but we are overlooking the fact we are reluctant to the tax the willing.
We, on moral grounds, refuse to legalize (and control) and tax something that, while illegal now, is in high demand and current supply. We can generate millions of dollars in much-needed state revenue that people will willingly pay for. This is a huge untapped revenue stream. Almost a dozen other states have done this, but West Virginia, which continues to stew at the bottom of every major economic growth category in the country, drags its feet.
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In West Virginia, that road is paved with the tax dollars of church-going voters. Folks, us moral advocates — especially the ones who work — are shouldering the majority of the state’s tax burden. And we need to ease that burden, especially as our tax base continues to shrink. The creation of a marijuana-based industry and economy will help ease that burden.
How will legalization and regulation of this industry benefit us? We can devote this revenue to health care costs: to shoring up PEIA and providing better care and lower costs for working West Virginians and retirees. Instead of raising taxes and fees on working-poor West Virginians, we have an opportunity to create an industry that will bring jobs, diversify an economy and produce a solid revenue stream that can benefit us all.
We need to get past the moral objection to marijuana. We need to understand and separate the fact that legalization of marijuana is not the same as individuals condoning it.
Legalization is not moral acceptance.
This is a tax, a revenue stream willingly paid by folks, and will reap benefits for our working-class folks and their families, and our economy. It is being used by almost a dozen other states with positive results, and West Virginia needs to be one of them.