Ron Gregory: Lawmakers sabotaging medical marijuana

September 15, 2018

There was universal celebration within the pro-marijuana community in 2017 when the West Virginia Legislature allegedly set the stage for medical cannabis in 2019. There were many who labored long and hard, for years, for legalization.

Pro-marijuana legislators were joyous with the outcome and hailed marijuana as a potential solution for the state’s struggling economy. Sales, they said, would begin July 1, 2019.

To be clear, I have said before that I support legalization of all forms of marijuana. It seems to me that those who smoke a marijuana joint are in much better condition than those who consume alcoholic beverages. I am not quite convinced that medical cannabis is the cure for as many physical ailments as supporters claim, but there is some positive evidence.

In 2017, there was talk of “marijuana farms” sprouting up across the horizon and “average farmers” becoming millionaires. Meanwhile, the state was going to be enriched with new tax dollars and all would prosper.

For months, Logan state Sen. Richard Ojeda touted his support for medical marijuana and pointed out how “rare” it was for a freshman senator to get major legislation passed. Kanawha Delegate Mike Pushkin was the marijuana hero on the House side.

Months ago, I pointed out that the marijuana “victory” of 2017 might be shallow. Without enabling legislation and cooperation from legislative Republicans who oppose cannabis, nothing had really been accomplished.

Those pushing for legalization labeled me a pessimist. They said all was in place to move forward. If additional legislation was needed, one marijuana lobbyist told me then, it would be “easily” approved in 2018. That he and others actually expected a GOP-dominated legislature to strengthen a marijuana bill in an election year shows just how naive these folks are.

In any event, nothing happened in 2018. As Pushkin circulated a petition calling for a special session to deal with how marijuana funds could legally be deposited, Ojeda was off in Washington, D.C., accepting an award as Legislator of the Year. With federal law banning marijuana sales, federally regulated banks cannot accept the money. Options to establish ways credit unions and/or savings and loans could handle it never had a chance. So, when legislators placed $2 million in the budget to support the cannabis commission, Gov. Jim Justice vetoed it. No need, he said, to allocate funds to a commission charged with overseeing a project that could not - legally - get started.

Now, pro-marijuana lobbying groups, like CHANGE.org, are railing against former House Speaker Tim Armstead because medical marijuana will NOT be implemented by July 1, 2019.

Armstead is running for Supreme Court and marijuana groups want him defeated. As the former speaker, groups like CHANGE blame him for bottling up enabling legislation.

It seems to me legislative proponents deserve as much blame as the ex-speaker for failure to get this program going. For nearly two years, these legislators have known the project cannot begin without further legislation. They dropped the ball on implementation. Until recent weeks, they were still assuring their supporters that medical marijuana was good to go July 1, 2019. They knew better.

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Speaking of knowing better, it’s difficult to see how Mercer County Republican Delegate John Shott actually believed his proposed solution to Supreme Court woes would “restore public confidence in the court.”

Shott and his GOP House leadership team asked the State Senate to dismiss impeachment charges against two Supreme Court justices and publicly censure them.

This would be his proposed “punishment” for wasting at least $26 million and allowing senior status judges to make as much as $60,000 more a year than the law allows.

Over six years, the Supreme Court overpaid senior status judges by $271,000 in clear violation of an unambiguous section of state code. They even devised a scheme to hide the overpayments.

Thank goodness the State Senate had the good sense to disagree with Shott and move forward with impeachment.

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This week, statistical genius Nate Silver predicts Republican Carol Miller’s chances of winning the 3rd Congressional District seat at 93 percent. Right now, he believes Miller would beat Democrat Richard Ojeda, 57 to 43 percent.

Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185 or ronjgregory@gmail.com.

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