Governor Jim Justice’s opposition to legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes appears to be softening.
Justice opened the door just a crack during a virtual town hall meeting Tuesday, where the Governor was again pitching his proposed elimination of the state income tax.
A questioner—Dylan from Ripley—asked, “Do you support legalizing marijuana fully to bring in more money to our state so we can tax it?” (The question and answer begin at aprox. the 22-minute mark of the town hall. Watch here.)
Justice began his answer with “I don’t,” and then quickly added, “but I am weakening on that position.”
The Governor went on to say that he is not educated enough on the issue to make a “really good assessment as of yet.”
He is worried that legalization would worsen the state’s already challenging drug problem, but he added that he has heard from some in the medical community that making marijuana legal could have the opposite effect and lessen the drug problem.
(Medical marijuana is already legal in West Virginia and eligible patients began registering last month at www.medcanwv.org.)
Remember, Justice is looking for additional revenue to offset the loss of more than $2 billion from the General Revenue Fund by eliminating the state income tax. Legalizing and taxing marijuana would bring in revenue, but how much?
Virginia’s General Assembly has just approved recreational marijuana legalization and Governor Ralph Northam is expected to sign the bill. A study done for the Virginia Legislature last year estimated that in year five of legalization, the taxes would generate between $154 and $308 million in revenue.
But Virginia’s population is five times that of West Virginia.
Virginia’s legalization does not kick in until 2024. Meanwhile, Maryland’s legislature is also considering legalization. The Washington Post reports, “HB32 would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana…for adults 21 and older and also allow for expungement and release for individuals previously arrested or incarcerated.”
While Justice may be warming to the idea of legalization, he laid down a critical marker—the Legislature is going to have to take the lead.
“I do believe that (legalization) is coming and the wave is coming across all of our states, and as that wave comes, if our House Republicans and Democrats and Senate Republicans and Democrats would get behind that effort from a standpoint of legalization of recreational marijuana and they would be supportive of that, I would too,” Justice said.
That is a huge “if.”
The Democrats have majorities in both chambers of the Maryland and Virginia legislatures. In Richmond, not one Republican voted for the bill. In West Virginia, Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers, meaning there is very little chance a legalization bill would even get a committee hearing, much less pass.
Still, based on the Governor’s comments, recreational marijuana legalization advocates in West Virginia now know Justice is at least open to the idea.