FAIRMONT – Twenty-seven members of the West Virginia House of Delegates have signed a letter encouraging the Department of Commerce to investigate the potential economic impact of implementing legal cannabis in the state.
The letter requests that Ed Gaunch, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Commerce, fast-track the study, in an attempt to determine the results as quickly as possible.
“Our neighboring states, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia all have legislation that is moving toward legalizing cannabis use,” said Delegate Michael Angelucci, (D-50). “So we need to make sure West Virginia is ahead of the curve, and we can do so in a safe and effective manner that also increases our tax base and tax revenue.”
The letter to Gaunch, dated Jan. 17, from members of the House Small Business, Entrepreneurship, and Development Committee thanked him for appearing before the committee where he made a presentation about what is being termed “adult-use cannabis.”
“We agree that getting government out of the way where we can is important, and we believe this applies directly to the cannabis industry. There are people who are interested in building this industry in our state, but our government continues to get in the way,” the committee’s letter to Gaunch states.
The letter said West Virginia needs to be proactive and not reactive.
“This is an industry that has the potential to ‘blow the lid off’ of our tourism industry,” states the letter.
Angelucci signed the letter, along with about 25 Delegates including District 50 Delegates Mike Caputo, (D-50), and Linda Longstreth, (D-50). He said other states have benefitted economically after legalizing cannabis, and he would like to see the same benefits in West Virginia.
“We have seen huge economic increases in states that have legalized cannabis use,” Angelucci said. “So what we wanted to do is have that information available to us so that we can make an informed decision as to what the best move for West Virginia would be.”
Caputo said he doesn’t want to see West Virginia running behind another trend.
“We just think it’s worthy of a study,” Caputo said. “It seems like we always come in last because we’re so hesitant to do things. If this is something that West Virginians want, and I hear from a lot of people who believe that, we don’t want to be the last one getting on the train here.”
Caputo also said legalization could be a way to increase business tax revenue, seeing that other states seem to have benefitted in this way as well.
“This could be a way to put West Virginians first and have a bigger tax base,” Caputo said. “We absolutely cannot tax our citizens anymore, so we need to look at other ways to generate revenue.”
Both Angelucci and Caputo said they would like to see this study completed as early as possible, so the legislature can see the results at next session or even before the end of the current session. For Angelucci, the results can’t come soon enough. He said the opioid epidemic in West Virginia could be avoidable if those addicted individuals would have had a safer alternative.
“From my medical background, what I’ve seen is West Virginia is suffering from a horrible opioid crisis,” Angelucci said. “What we have seen in other states, we have seen opioid use decrease if recreational cannabis use is legalized. I think it would be a safer alternative to people who will stay away from the deadly heroin. I certainly have never seen anyone fatally overdose on cannabis.”
In 2014, Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, 14 years after adopting medical marijuana.
In March 2019, marijuana tax, license and fee revenue hit $1.02 billion, and marijuana sales topped $6.5 billion, according to a news release from the Colorado Department of Revenue. Colorado has 2,917 licensed marijuana businesses and 41,076 licensed individuals working in the industry.