This November, several states are poised to join many others that have chosen to legalize or decriminalize marijuana. Legislation has been introduced in West Virginia for years to either legalize medical marijuana or reduce the criminal penalties for marijuana possession. What would it mean to the state if it were to modernize its marijuana laws?
A report released today by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, Modernizing West Virginia’s Marijuana Laws: Potential Benefits of Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana, and Legalization, takes a close look at what legalizing marijuana would mean to the state’s budget, its prison system and its chronically ill.
There are different levels of action West Virginia could take. It could join the four states and the District of Columbia that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults, the 25 states (and DC) that allow for marijuana to be used for medical purposes, or the 21 states that have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.
“States like Colorado and Washington are adding tens of millions of dollars to their state budgets due to legalizing marijuana. In these times of record budget shortfalls, the time could be right for West Virginia legislators to explore the same, with our estimates running from $45 to $194 million in marijuana tax revenue, depending on out-of-state participation,” explained Tara Holmes, WVCBP Summer Research Associate and author of the report.
In a state that pays $17 million a year to enforce just its marijuana laws, West Virginia could also save money by decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, like 21 other states have done.
“West Virginia’s marijuana laws are out of step with a majority of states in the country,” said Ted Boettner, Executive Director of the WVCBP. “While taxing and regulating recreational marijuana is one avenue lawmakers could pursue, the state could also greatly benefit from decriminalizing marijuana and allowing it to be used for medicinal purposes.”
Legalizing medical marijuana could lessen the state’s reliance on highly addictive opioids by providing another treatment option to the chronically ill. West Virginia had highest level of opioid-related overdose rates in both 2013 and 2014, and at least half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid.
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