Lawmakers look at bills to decriminalize marijuana

Published: Jan. 28, 2019 at 5:27 PM EST
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Lawmakers in both Kentucky and West Virginia are considering bills that would make marijuana less of a crime.

In Kentucky, Senate Bill 136 would allow for medical marijuana and Senate Bill 82 would make the penalty for those caught with small amounts like a traffic ticket.

In West Virginia, where medical marijuana is supposed to be unveiled this summer, House Bill 2331 would decriminalize recreational amounts.

But many in law enforcement have their doubts.

"I think the jury is still out," said Cabell County Sheriff Chuck Zerkle.

Meanwhile, Erin Adair is the owner of Kali Wellness which opened earlier this month on Eighth Street in Huntington.

The chief product for sale is CBD oil, which extracts the oil from hemp and makes it into a product that's helped many people with a wide variety of ailments.

She’s glad to hear the news West Virginia House lawmakers have introduced a bill to legalize marijuana and allow people to carry up to an ounce.

"I think it's great,” Adair said. “I think we need it with the opiate issue we have."

It would only be legal for adults who are at least 21.

Proponents point to a 2016 study by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, which estimates it could bring in anywhere from $45 million to almost $200 million a year if the product is taxed at 25 percent. It is also expected to create thousands of jobs and increase tourism.

But Zerkle believes it's a slippery slope. He worries about marijuana being laced with other drugs like fentanyl, as well as the dangers from impaired drivers.

"I think we're a few years down the road with West Virginia,” Zerkle said. “I don't know that we've got all the issues worked out on the medical side of it."

He believes pot is a gateway drug for too many. He also thinks the current bill allocates far too little money to law enforcement who will be the ones dealing with its passage.

"Sometimes all the money in the world isn't worth the headaches it brings," Zerkle said. "We don't know what all the headaches will be yet."

But Adair believes that can all be worked out.

While the bill was introduced by a Democratic delegate in a state controlled by Republicans, she's not giving up yet and believes the bill has a chance.

"Maybe,” she said. “It takes a family member or friend and they see what happens and they convert."

So far, 13 states have decriminalized marijuana, but they have not legalized it.