With West Virginia planning to eliminate personal income tax in 2021 due to the pandemic, the state is facing $2.1 billion in revenue losses and considering cannabis legalization. As a means of recouping lost funds, Majority Whip Paul Espinosa (R) sent a survey to GOP leaders that included 12 potential policy changes — with recreational cannabis legalization being one of them.
The survey was intended to gauge support as to what policies lawmakers would be willing to enact and support to recoup funds. While many states have moved to legalize marijuana in recent months to offset the effects of the coronavirus — including neighboring Virginia — Espinosa suggested in a follow-up interview that of the twelve proposed policies, several of them are likely to be ‘non-starters.’
In addition to cannabis legalization, the list of potential policy changes also included things like increasing sales taxes, reduced funding for education, and the addition of a food tax. In response to backlash faced by these proposals, Espinosa said: “Frankly, we even sometimes ask our members questions when we have a sense that it may be a non-starter… just to confirm that.”
Espinosa did not give specifics about what policy changes he anticipated to be ‘non-starters,’ though recreational cannabis has historically been opposed by GOP lawmakers in the state. This phenomenon is consistent with nationwide trends of blue states advocating for cannabis, while red states such as Idaho remain staunchly opposed.
With over 600 cannabis or drug policy bills being filed in West Virginia so far in 2021, it’s clear that advocates are taking action towards reform. While the state approved medical cannabis legalization in 2017, it remains unclear what kind of marijuana proposals lawmakers will introduce in their formal session beginning February 10th.
Advocates such as senior legislative analysts for the Marijuana Policy Project said that the legalization and regulation of recreational cannabis in West Virginia would create jobs, reveal opportunities for new business, produce substantial tax revenue, and entice young people to live and work in the state.
Whether or not GOP lawmakers in West Virginia agree remains to be seen.