A West Virginia House leader recently circulated an internal poll among Republican lawmakers, inquiring about what kind of policies—including marijuana legalization—they’d be willing to support to increase revenue to the state as part of a plan to eliminate the personal income tax.
The survey listed 12 examples of potential policy changes that could be enacted to offset an estimated $2.1 billion revenue loss if the income tax is repealed. But while Majority Whip Paul Espinosa (R) put legalizing cannabis in that list, he said in a follow-up interview that it doesn’t necessarily signal that it’s something the legislature would pursue.
“Generally speaking, we routinely reach out to our members to gauge their perspective on various issues or even components of issues to gauge whether they’re components of legislation they can support or, just as importantly, if not more importantly, which components are non-starters,” Espinosa said last week.
“Frankly, we even sometimes ask our members questions when we have a sense that it may be a non-starter or may not have much support just to confirm that,” he said, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “I think it’s fair to say…some of those are non-starters.”
The list also includes items such as increasing sales taxes, reducing funding for education and adding a food tax.
“In spite of your positions on individual concepts mentioned above, would you support a bill that contained all of these concepts if it eliminated [personal income tax] in less than 4 years and resulted in a reduction in the budget and size of state government?” Espinosa wrote to his caucus. “If your answer to the above question is NO, what concepts would need to be removed from the package in order to gain your support?”
While cannabis legalization may or may not be one of the non-starters the top lawmaker had in mind when pressed by reporters about the survey, Matt Simon, senior legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that if Republicans aren’t actually considering the reform move, “they should be.”
“Legalizing and regulating cannabis in West Virginia would create new jobs and business opportunities, produce substantial tax revenue, and make the state a more attractive place for young people to live and work,” the West Virginia native said. “Replacing prohibition with effective regulation would also protect consumers and allow police to focus their limited resources on serious crimes.”
West Virginia approved medical cannabis legalization in 2017, and patients were just recently approved to start registering for the program. That said, the state must still partner with a testing laboratory before marijuana products are made available.
Adult-use legalization, meanwhile, represents a taller order for lawmakers in the state. While nearly 600 cannabis or drug policy bills have been filed in state legislatures and Congress so far in 2021, West Virginia’s session formally begins on Wednesday and so it remains to be seen what kind of marijuana proposals lawmakers will introduce there this year.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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Two Democratic candidates who lost their bids for West Virginia House seats last year had pledged to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana in the state if they were elected.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.