West Virginia Law Makers Have a Lot to Learn about Cannabis

When I bring up the fact that Black West Virginians make up less than 4% of the state’s population but 19% of the non-violent cannabis arrests, they’re not trying to hear it.” ~ Rusty Williams

There’s not a single problem that can’t be solved with a proper education. When it comes to cannabis, West Virginia lawmakers have got a lot to learn.

For nearly a decade, my life has been dedicated to ending the prohibition of the flower that got me through chemotherapy. I’ve spent countless hours pounding the marble halls of the capitol complex, talking about the immediate need to end prohibition to anyone willing to listen, and though I get a lot of credit for my work on medical cannabis, my focus has always been on decriminalization. Before we allow industry to come in here and use the cannabis plant to build their empires, it is imperative that we take every possible step to right the societal wrongs created and maintained by prohibition.

Unfortunately, unless it’s an association or a representative from some big-money lobby firm doing the talking, our lawmakers don’t seem to be very interested in listening.

When I talk about the fact that over the last decade, nationally, we saw a downward trend in the number of non-violent cannabis arrests while in that same timeframe, West Virginia saw a 49% increase, they’re not trying to hear it.

When I bring up the fact that Black West Virginians make up less than 4% of the state’s population but 19% of the non-violent cannabis arrests, they’re not trying to hear it.

When I mention the fact that nationally, Black folks are 4x more likely to be arrested for non-violent cannabis offenses but here in these hills, the risk of arrest is 7.3x the rate of whites, they’re not trying to hear it.

In the years I’ve spent engaging lawmakers on behalf of cannabis reform, I’ve been told multiple times that I need to “leave the racial stuff out of it and focus on the economics” by elected officials on both sides of the aisle. It doesn’t matter how much information is presented to back up every single claim; they just don’t seem at all interested in talking about race.

In the age of information, ignorance is a choice, and when you boil it all down, willful ignorance is drowning out reason and stomping out and all attempts at cannabis reform.

This is where you come in.

The WV Medical Cannabis Act didn’t get passed because elected officials felt like it was the right thing to do. We became the 29 th state to legalize medical cannabis because the people stood up and demanded it. We figured out how to use social media and the tools we had at our disposal to organize and establish a network of like-minded West Virginians, and as a result, we were able to successfully push a piece of game-changing legislation through one of the most anti-weed legislatures in the country.

We figured out what they’re terrified of us knowing; when we stand up together, we can move mountains with little to no money or resources.

If we stand together, we can create a cannabis industry that works to heal a century of state-sanctioned trauma. We can ensure that every non-violent cannabis offense on the books is immediately expunged. Through the implementation of micro-permits and language supporting the equitable distribution of industry licenses, we can give WV small businesses and small farmers the tools they need to lift entire communities out of poverty.

If we work together, we can put West Virginia on the path to equitable, sustainable prosperity.

There’s just no simpler way to say it; as each day of the legislative session passes, every single one of our elected officials not actively working to end the draconian prohibition of cannabis grows more and more complicit in the perpetuation of institutional racism. Maya Angelou said to “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” When it comes to the racist prohibition of cannabis, it’s time to demand that the folks we elect to represent us in Charleston and on every level of government, do better.

Please take a few minutes to call your representatives and urge them to support ending the prohibition of cannabis and get five of your friends to do the same.

Rusty Williams is patient advocate on the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, artist, activist

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