Dear Mr. (Jim) Justice:
To start let me say that your speech at the WV State Democratic Party Convention literally brought tears to my wife’s and my own eyes. It is clear you understand the desperation and hopelessness that the average West Virginian faces. Of my close friends and college companions in the early ‘80s, I was the only one able to remain in the state following graduation, and that only because I had a family business where I could find employment. And we, of course, were the lucky ones.
Central to your speech was the diversification of WV’s economy. I cannot agree more because I have worked in cultural and community development for many years of my life with a focus on tourism development. The WV Center on the Budget and Policy has an excellent report and presentation on their website (www.wvpolicy.org/how-legalizing-marijuana-could-impact-west-virginia) explaining the profound impact that the legalization of recreation, medical, and industrial marijuana can have on the State’s budget crisis and the livelihoods of our fellow West Virginians.
As per the WV Chamber of Commerce, our state is located within a 500-mile radius of over 50 percent of the population of the United States and given the Federal prohibition on the transportation of cannabis across state lines, marijuana consumed in WV must be produced in the state and the product, as demonstrated in Colorado and Washington State, will act as a tremendous tourist draw.
At taxation levels of 25 percent per ounce, the estimated state tax revenues would amount to $194 million and, therefore, represents $776 million in retail sales. It is not clear how much revenue will be generated from hotels, restaurants, and destinations catering to the needs of out-of-state visitors, but what we do know is that every year since Colorado’s legalization that their cannabis tourism has grown and that the state in 2014 had 71.3 million visitors and tourism revenue of $18.6 billion. In comparison, West Virginia in 2014 had $4.5 billion in revenues. The evidence from Colorado is undisputable – legalized marijuana has been a boon for their tourism economy and a Godsend for their governmental tax base and ability to provide public services. The following report by the Drug Policy Alliance illustrates the impact on Colorado in only the first six months (http://www.drugpolicy.org/colorado-six-month-status-report). While we may not want to give up on King Coal, it is critical that we embrace Green Gold – and quickly before this business opportunity is lost to us.
Your third party opponent has already endorsed this plank of the WV Democratic Party and your Republican challenger has as usual taken a position to drag us further into the dark ages of corruption and cronyism that has placed our state in 50th in so many national rankings. At the Greenbrier County Democratic Party Executive Committee meeting you were right to say “If you are tired of being last, vote for me!”