CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates are backing a bill to decriminalize marijuana, as well as allow counties to decide to authorize its production and sale.

House Bill 2331, introduced earlier this month, would legalize the production of marijuana as well as possession of the drug up to an ounce. The state Bureau for Public Health would be responsible for permitting production and sales facilities, and the state Department of Revenue would oversee the related collection of taxes.

Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, introduced the bill; nine other Democrats have cosponsored the legislation.

“Think about where we were five years ago (and) where we’re going to be in 10, 15 years,” he said on last week’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

“It’s going to be here. It’s here now. Why are we continuing to just ignore that fact? Get out ahead of it and create a new West Virginia: a West Virginia where people want to be.”

Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh

Bates said the three main components of the legislative proposal are taxation, legalization and decriminalization of cannabis.

“You need to create a tax structure where it generates revenue for the state of West Virginia. You need to regulate it to make sure it’s not consumed in public, but you can’t grow private plants and the kids can’t get hold of it. And then you decriminalize it so you’re not locking these people up and spending all these resources on something that very soon is going to be legal in majority parts of the country,” he said.

Cannabis would be legal for people 21 years old or older. County commissions additionally would be allowed to put the issue on the ballot for voters to consider, with counties being able to tax cannabis sales at 5 percent.

“It’s all past time that a serious debate about what opportunities this industry has for West Virginia,” Bates noted.

Bates spoke last week on the chamber floor in favor of changing the state’s cannabis law. Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, criticized the proposal, saying marijuana is not the top issue lawmakers need to be addressing.

“Our residents are not leaving this state for Tennessee to find weed. Our residents are not seeking dope in North Carolina. Our residents are not seeking to leave this state for Florida for the sticky icky icky,” he said. “They leave to seek financial prosperity. They leave to seek a place where they can grow a business. They leave to seek a place that has a favorable tax environment.”

Lawmakers have referenced the bill to the House Health and Human Resources, Judiciary and Finance committees.

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