This is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We are now reaching the point in our series where the states we are listing are not laughably (or should we say screamingly) bad, nor are they good. They are generally okay in some areas and bad (without being horrible) in others. Today we turn to number 27: West Virginia.
Our previous rankings are as follows: 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah; 31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
Criminal Penalties. Marijuana crimes in West Virginia are not particularly onerous and are fairly simple compared to the other states we have examined so far in this series. West Virginia punishes the possession of any amount of marijuana with a sentence of imprisonment between 90 days and 6 months. For first-time offenders who possess less than 15 grams, the court may grant a conditional discharge and place the offender on probation in lieu of jail time. The court may require conditions like drug testing or community service. The offender may have his or her record expunged 6 months after the term of probation expires. West Virginia punishes crimes involving the sale, distribution, or trafficking of marijuana with 1-5 years in prison and a potential $15,000 fine. The mandatory minimum is raised to 2 years if the transaction occurs within 1,000 feet of a school. Subsequent offenses for either possession or distribution crimes can be punished by up to twice the amount of jail time and monetary fine authorized for a first offense.
Medical marijuana. West Virginia does not currently have any form of legal medical marijuana. Even CBD-oil is outlawed under current law. The state legislature has made numerous attempts to pass updated legislation, as compiled here by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). A 2014 poll revealed that 56% of vWest Virginia voters supported some form of medical marijuana for seriously ill patients and those percentages have likely only increased.
Hemp. In 2014, West Virginia legalized the production of industrial hemp by passing HB 3011. Potential hemp cultivators must apply for a license with the WV Department of Agriculture. The program was slow to start, but the Cannabist reports that the state is now distributing hemp seeds for farmers to plant. The Department of Agriculture is closely monitoring the process and is testing plants to ensure they do not contain more than trace amounts of THC.
Bottomline. West Virginia is not terribly remarkable when it comes to cannabis. Its criminal penalties are lenient in comparison to its southern neighbors. The longest sentence a person can serve for selling marijuana is 10 years. Though that is obviously far from ideal, it is much better than the criminal penalties in many other states. Medical marijuana is not available in West Virginia, but that has a decent chance of changing in the next legislative session. It is probably too soon to determine whether West Virginia’s hemp program will be successful but West Virginia does have a history of strong agricultural production and it seems likely that it’s climate will allow farmers to successfully cultivate hemp and the “country roads” about which John Denver sang will soon be surrounded by profitable hemp crops. But until West Virginia at least reforms its laws to allow people to use medical marijuana, it will remain just a little bit worse than average on cannabis.
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