Editorials, Opinion

Can weed save W.Va.?

On Nov. 12, West Virginia introduced its first medical cannabis dispensary: Trulieve Medical Cannabis Treatment Center opened its doors in Sabraton, with plans for sister stores to open in Charleston and Weston soon.

Trulieve’s presence marks a major shift in the way West Virginia views marijuana. The country as a whole is pushing toward legalizing marijuana — not just for medical use, but for recreational use, as well.

Three U.S. senators, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, sent a letter to President Biden, asking him to issue a blanket pardon “for all non-violent federal cannabis offenses.” In order to be effective, and to help those previously incarcerated, a pardon would need to be paired with legislation. Sen. Chuck Schumer introduced a bill this summer that would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and expunge non-violent marijuana arrests and convictions. A similar bill, Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021, was introduced in the House this past spring.

Legalizing marijuana could do wonders for America and West Virginia in particular. Nationally, the The Washington Post reported that, in 2016, more people were arrested for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes. In the Mountain State alone, in 2012, there were roughly 7,900 drug-related arrests; 53% were for marijuana. In 2018, there were 8,963 cannabis-only arrests, according to the ACLU-WV. Legalizing marijuana would help clear out our jails of non-violent offenders.

Marijuana is also thought to have some health benefits, at least compared to certain prescribed substances. When The Dominion Post interviewed some of Trulieve’s first customers, all said they use marijuana to help with pain and pain management. Several mentioned that medical marijuana helped them get off opioids.

Close on the heels of Trulieve’s grand opening came the  unfortunate announcement this week that America reached a record 100,000 overdose deaths in 12 months.

And West Virginia ranked No. 1 in the nation, with 90 deaths per 100,000 people in the state. A grand total of 1,607 overdose deaths between April 2020 and April 2021.

There continues to be widespread debate about marijuana as an alternative to opioids, but given the heartbreaking surge in opioid deaths, it must be given more thought. A study published in JAMA International Medicine found that, in 2010, states with medical marijuana saw 25% less prescription painkiller deaths than states where marijuana in all forms was illegal.

The CDC records no cannabis overdose deaths. However, the American Addictions Centers reported 22 deaths related to fatal cannabis doses in 2012 and 18 deaths each in 2013 and 2014, based on autopsy reports. Either way, cannabis is significantly less deadly than opioids.

Cannabis’ benefits and risks should be carefully weighed, as any mind- or mood-altering substance’s should be. Addiction remains a potential risk; so does the potential for accidents while driving or working. However, marijuana’s advantages for a state ravaged by opioids should not be discounted, especially when the risks can be mitigated by regulating cannabis the way we already regulate alcohol and tobacco.