Pubdate: Sun, 23 Dec 2012
Source: Charleston Gazette (WV)
Copyright: 2012 Charleston Gazette
Author: Paul J. Nyden


Supporters Argue Financial, Medical Benefits of Halting Prohibition

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislation to legalize marijuana use, 
especially for medical purposes, is being discussed again in West Virginia.

Today, sale of medical marijuana is legal in 18 states and 
Washington, D.C. Today, 30 percent of Americans live in states where 
marijuana is legal in some form.

On Nov. 6, popular votes in Colorado and Washington state legalized 
the recreational use of marijuana.

Supporters of marijuana legislation in West Virginia back various 
reform laws they say could offer people medical help, create new 
state tax revenues, cut prison costs and enhance an industry already 
booming underground.

West Virginia's state prisons are becoming increasingly overcrowded and costly.

Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, said the bill he is backing in the 
Legislature focuses on medical, not recreational, uses of marijuana.

"I do support decriminalizing small amounts for people getting 
caught. It would reduce the impact on our prison system. But my main 
goal is to legalize the ability of doctors to recommend it for a 
patient for a chronic ailment."

Today, Manypenny said, "80 percent of our state's prison population 
is there directly or indirectly related to charges of substance abuse.

"Legalizing marijuana could also spur economic development, Manypenny 
said. "We could export it to other states that approve medical 
marijuana. Ohio and Pennsylvania may also be close to getting 
something passed."

Brad Douglas, the Department of Corrections' director of research and 
planning, did not return phone calls Friday asking how the state 
estimates costs, and jail times, resulting from arrests related to 
marijuana possession.

Financial benefits

Kaitlin L. Hillenbrand, a student at the West Virginia University 
College of Law, recently wrote a paper titled "State Deregulation of 
Marijuana Act. White Paper: A Bill Concerning the Decriminalization 
and Regulation of the Marijuana Industry."

In her paper, Hillenbrand says repealing the prohibition of marijuana 
will result in "numerous benefits to the state," including "over $72 
million in savings and revenue in the first year, and that number 
will very likely increase each year. Law enforcement resources would 
free up to solve serious crimes."

Those benefits, Hillenbrand estimates, would include $29.6 million in 
revenues from a 6 percent sales tax on marijuana and taxpayer savings 
of $42.6 million by cutting marijuana arrests.

Hillenbrand also questions the effectiveness of marijuana arrests.

In 2011, one American was arrested every 42 seconds for marijuana 
possession. Yet marijuana use rates continued to rise, according to 
an FBI study.

On Nov. 15, Hillenbrand discussed her work about the legalization of 
marijuana with some members of the state Senate and House of Delegates.

Hillenbrand said she drafted a legislative bill, part of her paper, 
on behalf of Ken Robidoux -- a medicinal-marijuana patient originally 
from California who suffers from seizure disorders.

Hillenbrand wrote her paper for a class taught by former WVU 
President David C. Hardesty Jr.

"The bill decriminalizes marijuana and gives the state Alcohol 
Beverage Control Commission regulatory authority over marijuana," she said.

Hillenbrand said she modeled her bill after those that passed in 
Colorado and Washington last month, a model bill by the Marijuana 
Policy Project and the West Virginia statute that ended alcohol 
prohibition in the state in June 1933.

Hillenbrand hopes that West Virginia residents who favor the 
legalization of marijuana for either medical and/or recreational 
purposes express their opinions to their legislators.

Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Washington, D.C.-based 
Marijuana Policy Project, is working with Hillenbrand.

Simon praised Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an international 
organization of criminal-justice professionals founded in 1999 that 
criticizes "the wasteful futility and harms of our current drug policies."

According to its website, LEAP favors "a tight system of legalized 
regulation, which will effectively cripple the violent cartels and 
street dealers who control the current illegal market."

Simon visited Charleston to attend the Dec. 11 informational forum 
chaired by Manypenny in the Capitol's House of Delegates chamber.

"It is better to regulate and tax marijuana so that it is not sold by 
others who sell other drugs," Simon said during an interview.

"Today, there are 2.3 million Americans behind bars in prison, the 
highest rate in the world. And it hasn't worked to scare people out 
of marijuana use."

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton recently admitted the 
"drug war" policies they pursued were not effective.

And last week, an editorial in the San Francisco Examiner praised 
President Obama for saying federal agents would not arrest pot users 
in Washington and Colorado.

Paul Clancy, a physician from Spencer, and Aila Accad, 
president-elect of the West Virginia Nurses Association, also spoke 
at Manypenny's forum in support of approving medical marijuana.

Medical benefits

Simon said marijuana-based medicines can help people who face a 
variety of health problems, including cancer, nerve damage and pain, 
multiple sclerosis and AIDS.

"Opiates don't help as much with neuropathic pain. Marijuana also 
helps reduce peoples' dependencies on drugs like Lortab, Percodan and 
Oxycontin," Simon said.

Manypenny believes legalizing marijuana, at least for medical 
purposes, also could help the state's underfunded drug treatment programs.

"We should use these taxes to fund treatment programs for substance 
abuse in West Virginia, as well as prevention programs in our schools 
that are also underfunded."

Manypenny said his bill also would "alleviate pressure on our 
overcrowded prison system. Most of the states that have passed 
legislation to legalize marijuana have seen a decrease in actual 
substance abuse in their populations."

"The best treatment for opiate addition is medical marijuana," he 
said, pointing out that "only about 8 percent of the population 
becomes physically addicted" to that treatment.

Manypenny believes medical patients should have the option of trying 
drugs made from marijuana. "Some don't want to take opiates because 
they don't want to be addicted to them.

"I also introduced another bill to allow for home confinement, 
instead of imprisonment, for minor drug abuses," Manypenny said.

Hillenbrand pointed out that people who support legalizing marijuana 
do not necessarily approve of its use.

"Just as alcohol prohibition was repealed because people recognized 
that prohibition did not work, marijuana prohibition is ending 
because prohibition absolutely does not work."

Many people who oppose alcohol and marijuana prohibition do not 
advocate the use of either substance.

Marijuana is a thriving agricultural product in Appalachia, where its 
cultivation is a growing business in the poorest parts of the region.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported in a Dec. 4 article that 
federal, state and local law enforcement officers have already 
confiscated more than $1.5 billion worth of marijuana this year in 
central Appalachia.

Ed Shemelya, head of marijuana eradication in the Appalachian High 
Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, told the newspaper that aerial 
surveillance discovered nearly 770,000 plants in the mountains of 
Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee.

Today, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates the value 
of a mature marijuana plant is about $2,000.

"The Appalachian region, a haven for moonshiners during Prohibition, 
has a near-perfect climate for marijuana cultivation, plus remote 
forests that help growers camouflage their crops," the Herald-Leader reported.
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