Legalization lessons from Colorado, elsewhere discussed at Kanawha County marijuana symposium

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The former U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado said the “grand experiment” of marijuana legalization in his state should serve as a cautionary tale for other parts of the United States.

“It’s important that states like West Virginia learn from our experiences,” said Bob Troyer who spoke Wednesday during the “Marijuana Symposium: A Look Back at the Colorado Experiment and What You Need to Know” held at the Charleston Marriott Town Center.

Bob Troyer, former U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, opened Wednesday’s Marijuana Symposium in Charleston.

“This is a passionate subject,” said Mike Stuart, U.S. Attorney for West Virginia’s Southern District and a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, at the start of the event that he said was designed to foster “a healthy debate” from all sides.

In 2002, Colorado residents voted to legalize marijuana for medical use.

Legalization was expanded in Colorado to recreational marijuana usage in a 2012 vote with full implementation taking effect in 2014.

Troyer was working in the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the time of what he called the “commercialization” of marijuana under a “flawed system” with little oversight, what turned out to be, in his view, “medicine by popular vote.”

Since then, Troyer said, loopholes had been exploited.

Paying the price for too little return, in his view, were Colorado’s children, communities, the environment and pets.

“To live in Colorado now feels like a bunch of outsiders came in to take the gold out our streams,” he told symposium attendees.

“In hindsight, the phrase ‘grand experiment’ can only be seen as cruel and laughable.  The cart was put before the horse.”

But Delegate Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha, 37), one of the invited symposium attendees, questioned whether the Colorado “experiment” had failed during his questioning of Troyer.

“None of the states that have moved forward with either legalizing recreational or medicinal cannabis, not a single state has turned back,” Pushkin said.

“I’ve not heard of any states really regretting it, but that’s not what we’re hearing here today.”

Along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia, sponsors of the Wednesday Marijuana Symposium included the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and the National Marijuana Initiative.

In the crowd with a number of law enforcement officers, lawmakers and community leaders was Bill Powell, U.S. Attorney for West Virginia’s Northern District.

Joining Troyer as presenters were Dr. Mourad Gabriel, co-director of the Integral Ecology Research Center; Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana; Tom Gorman, director of Rocky Mountain HIDTA; Dale Quigley of the National Marijuana Initiative and Dr. William J. Lynch with Kennedy University Hospital, Cherry Hill Division.

Governor Jim Justice signed West Virginia’s Medical Cannabis Act into law in April 2017.

Under the law, cannabis can be utilized for certified medical uses in the following forms: pill; oil; topical forms including gels, creams or ointments; a form medically appropriate for administration by vaporization or nebulization, excluding dry leaf or plant form; tincture; liquid; or dermal patch.

Implementation of the law has stalled, though, for banking and other reasons.

The first identification cards for patients and caregivers required to obtain medical marijuana had originally been scheduled to be issued beginning on July 1, 2019.

Troyer said he’s not opposed to marijuana’s legalization as medicine.

“I mean medicine the way Western civilizations look at medicine — a thing that treats the condition, that doesn’t create an even greater problem from its usage and its interaction with other medicines has been studied and assessed,” he said.

If that kind of medicine can be developed, Troyer would be “absolutely all for it,” but that did not happen in Colorado.

Before West Virginia follows, Stuart said he thinks “people deserve the facts.”

Pushkin agreed on that point, but said he thought all the facts were not part of the Wednesday Marijuana Symposium.

“I’m grateful that I was invited. I am open minded to listen to any point of view. I do think it’s unfortunate that we were only presented with one opinion,” he said.

“There are definitely many sides to this issue.”

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