West Virginia ends 2022 legislative session without acting on cannabis policy reforms
Last update: March 16, 2022
West Virginia’s 2022 legislative session adjourned on Saturday, March 12. Although several cannabis policy reforms were introduced — including bills to expand the state's medical cannabis program, decriminalize cannabis possession, and legalize and tax cannabis for adults — none were taken up this year.
West Virginia remains one of the 19 states that have yet to decriminalize cannabis possession. Under current law in West Virginia, a first offense for possession of any amount of cannabis carries a mandatory minimum of 90 days’ imprisonment (with a conditional discharge for up to 15 grams with probation).
These laws are some of the harshest in the nation, and their effect on West Virginians — disproportionately West Virginians of color — is evident. According to the ACLU, West Virginia ranks fourth in the nation for the highest racial disparity in arrests for cannabis possession, with Black people being 7.3 times more likely to be arrested than white people.
West Virginians strongly support reform, with 68% supporting making cannabis legal.
Please reach out to your lawmakers and ask them to decriminalize or legalize cannabis!
First dispensaries now open to patients
On November 12, 2021, West Virginia’s first medical cannabis dispensary —Trulieve — opened its doors in Morgantown. Since then, several additional dispensaries have opened. You can find locations here.
This has been a long-awaited moment, as West Virginia has had the slowest medical cannabis rollout in the country. The state legalized medical cannabis in 2017.
More information about the West Virginia medical cannabis program can be found at the website for the Office of Medical Cannabis.
A timeline of West Virginia's medical cannabis law
On April 19, 2017, Gov. Jim Justice signed West Virginia’s medical cannabis bill, SB 386, making West Virginia the 29th state to pass a medical cannabis law. The bill passed the Senate in a 28-6 vote, and it passed the House in a 76-24 vote. A summary of the law, as amended in 2019 and 2020, is here.
On February 3, 2021, the Office of Medical Cannabis finally began allowing patients to register for the program. The state issued 100 dispensary permits in late January.
At first, the law prohibited patients from obtaining cannabis in its natural, flower form. In 2018, an advisory board recommended allowing whole-plant cannabis, and in 2020, the legislature added “dry leaf or plant form” to the law by passing SB 339.
The rollout of the program was initially delayed because of concerns about who will provide banking services to the state’s medical cannabis program and to medical cannabis businesses. Southern District U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart exacerbated the problem by threatening to prosecute businesses that enter the medical cannabis space.
In an effort to address these banking issues, in 2019, the legislature passed HB 2538, a bill that allowed credit unions to bid for the state’s account and sought to protect state employees from potential prosecution. Gov. Justice signed this bill into law.
In 2019, the legislature also passed SB 1037, a bill that allowed vertical integration of dispensaries and increased the number of dispensaries to 100.
Think tank reports that legalization would boost West Virginia’s economy, provide safer alternative to opioids
In March 2019, Gov. Justice said he was “one hundred percent against recreational marijuana,” but in March 2021, he indicated that his opposition has weakened, and he would be willing to sign an adult-use legalization bill if lawmakers sent it to his desk.
Click here to send lawmakers a message urging them to support legalization.
In August 2016, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy published an in-depth report examining the potential economic and budgetary impacts of legalizing cannabis in the state. They concluded that West Virginia could raise approximately $45 million in taxes and save $17 million currently spent on enforcement. The report also noted that “marijuana may potentially have a positive impact on West Virginia’s opioid-based painkiller and heroin epidemic by offering another, less-addictive alternative to individuals who are suffering from debilitating medical conditions.”
Legislators have introduced several bills to tax and regulate cannabis sales in recent years, but the bills have not been scheduled for a hearing or a vote.
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