My Fellow West Virginians,
I am writing to you about the future of West Virginia. We must face the reality that the non-metallurgical coal industry is dead. Therefore, we are looking at huge raises in our tax burden or we must replace those coal tax revenues with a new, voluntary source of funding. The State of Colorado was in a similar situation before the legalization of marijuana. The Denver Post recently published an article (http://www.denverpost.com/2016/10/26/colorado-weed-economic-impact-report) from the Marijuana Policy Group, an organization founded by researchers from BBC Research & Consulting and the University of Colorado. To quote: “By legalizing, the state has gained a windfall more or less for free.” Industrial hemp production is currently legal under special permits in our state, however, the real benefit for WV is for us to be the first mover in the eastern United States to legalize recreational marijuana and it would also be a tremendous step forward for fiscal responsibility, public health, and sustaining WV’s reputation as the Colorado of the East.
So how big was this windfall in Colorado? The Marijuana Policy Group’s paper linked in the above article finds the following:
The nearly $700 million in marijuana sales in 2014 were greater than those of Colorado’s gold ore mining industry. If comparing the nearly $1 billion in 2015 marijuana sales to 2014 economic data – the most recent data available to MPG for these sectors – cannabis’ would leapfrog above that of bakeries, multifamily residential construction and performing arts and sports venues, and sit at half the size of the oil and gas industry’s $1.9 billion sales in 2014, according to MPG.
The WV Center on the Budget and Policy has a full report and a 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. As per the WV Chamber of Commerce our state is located within a 500-mile radius of over 50% 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 state and the product as demonstrated in Colorado and Washington State will act as a tremendous tourist draw. At taxation levels of 25% per ounce, the estimated state tax revenues would amount to $194 million and, therefore, represents $776 million in retail sales, and – utilizing conventional supplier models of 50% retail markup, 30% wholesale markup – $271 million in agricultural revenues for WV farmers. 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 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. And we know from the Drug Policy Alliance six-month status report on Colorado (http://www.drugpolicy.org/colorado-six-month-status-report) that positive changes are immediate and rapid including winning over the original opponents and established politicians of their state – many of who are now its strongest supporters.
One of the greatest concerns voiced by opponents of legalization of marijuana is the impact on the youth of our State. However, the newly released study on this subject by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which was published in Scientific American (www.scientificamerican.com/article/colorado-s-teen-marijuana-usage-dips-after-legalization/), found these concerns without merit. In fact, juvenile marijuana use has declined below the national average in Colorado since legalization. Other independent studies have also found legalization lowers the demand for painkillers in those states, thereby, reducing possible access to opioids, an issue critical to our State.
Regrettably this is a partisan issue. Only the WV Democratic Party platform supports the legalization of marijuana with sitting delegates like Mike Pushkin and progressive candidates like Matt Detch, Mike Manypenny, and Mark Hunt speaking publicly in support of this critical issue. It is time to begin utilizing the reforms such as this one to reverse the collapse our State. Please vote Blue for Green on Election Day.