Recreational marijuana is illegal in West Virginia, but the medical use of cannabis has been legal in the state since 2017 when Governor Jim Justice signed Senate Bill 386 into law. Also called the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, Senate Bill 386 allows West Virginia residents with certain debilitating medical conditions to use medical marijuana to treat or manage such ailments. Despite being legalized in 2017, qualifying patients could not purchase medicinal cannabis until November 2021, when the state's first medical cannabis dispensary opened for business. Senate Bill 386 established the state's Medical Cannabis Program, while the West Virginia Office of Medical Cannabis (OMC) regulates the program.
Qualifying patients are required to obtain a West Virginia medical marijuana card to enable them to purchase and use marijuana for medical purposes. However, the amount and forms of cannabis they can buy are limited by state law. West Virginia prohibits the sale or consumption of marijuana edibles. However, Senate Bill 590 was introduced in March 2021 and is seeking to permit the use of marijuana edibles for medical use. The forms of medical marijuana approved for medical use in the state include liquid, oil, dermal patch, pill, tincture, and topicals (cream, gel, or ointments). West Virginia also approves any cannabis form medically suitable for administration by nebulization or vaporization, except plant form or dry leaf. However, marijuana leaf or plant forms may become acceptable if the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health (BPH) adopts rules approving them for medical use.
Only persons with valid state-issued medical marijuana cards (patients and their caregivers) can purchase medical cannabis legally from West Virginia-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. Anyone convicted of a felony relating to controlled substance possession or sale within the past five years cannot apply for a medical marijuana card. Hence, such persons are not eligible to use medical cannabis in the state. Medical marijuana patients are prohibited from cultivating their own marijuana at home. Some legislation would have legalized adult-use cannabis in West Virginia but were all stalled. These include House Bill 3108 (the Normalization of Cannabis Act), House Bill 2331, and House Bill 2376.
As the West Virginia medical marijuana industry expands, employment opportunities and revenue generation continue to grow. According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, as of 2022, the West Virginia medical marijuana industry has created at least 332 direct jobs in the state. The state's medical cannabis industry has also created almost 2,000 indirect jobs in several positions in transportation, commercial construction, and security services.
Medical marijuana is not subject to sales tax in West Virginia. However, a summer research associate at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy reveals that legalizing cannabis for recreational use in the state would generate tax revenue of between $26 million and $45 million from West Virginia residents alone. According to the Center's presentation, the state could bring in up to $194 million yearly if marijuana purchases by out-of-state visitors are included. At taxation levels of 25% per ounce, the estimated tax revenue of $194 million on marijuana represents $271 million in farm sales and about $776 million in retail sales of cannabis per year. Similarly, according to the Tax Foundation, West Virginia can potentially generate about $40,000 per annum in marijuana excise tax if it legalizes adult-use cannabis.
Blacks in West Virginia are about 3.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people despite similar national usage rates. This is contained in a report by the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, revealing the state's racial disparity in marijuana arrests as one of the worst in the United States. The report shows that nearly 9,000 marijuana arrests were made in West Virginia in 2018 and that between 2010 and 2018, marijuana possession arrests have increased by almost 50% in the state. Also, the report found that racial disparities in cannabis-related arrests have not improved.
According to arrest data sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by law enforcement agencies in West Virginia, the state had 2,785 arrests for marijuana sales and possession in 2018. The number of cannabis possession arrests was more, with 2,589 arrests. The proportion of marijuana arrests for that year was about 39% of the total drug-related arrests reported for West Virginia. In 2019, 2,046 cannabis-related arrests were reported to the FBI, with 132 sales arrests and 1,914 marijuana possession arrests.
The number of marijuana-related arrests reported to the FBI by West Virginia law enforcement agencies declined to 1,755 in 2020. There were 1,590 cannabis possession arrests and 165 sales arrests. In 2021, the arrest figures fell to 1,649, with 156 marijuana sales arrests and 1,493 marijuana possession arrests. According to these reports, in 2019, 2020, and 2022, marijuana arrests accounted for 21%, 29%, and 28%, respectively, of all drug-related arrests reported to the FBI.
There were several attempts to pass bills to legalize medical marijuana in West Virginia between 2010 and 2015, but there was no headway. However, in April 2017, Governor Jim Justice signed the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act (Senate Bill 386), which legalized medical cannabis for patients with certain severe medical conditions. The Act laid a framework for establishing a statewide medical marijuana registry and set July 1, 2019, as the effective date to start the legal sale of medicinal cannabis. However, the legal sale of medical cannabis did not begin on this day due to a lack of program funding.
Besides the lack of program funding, concerns about how to provide banking services for the West Virginia Medical Marijuana Program contributed to halting the sale of medical in July 2019 as planned. In a bid to resolve this challenge, the state enacted House Bill 2583 in May 2019, permitting credit unions to bid for the state's account and handle all banking-related services for the West Virginia Medical Marijuana Program. The bill provided some levels of protection from federal prosecution to the selected banking vendor. In the same year (2019), West Virginia passed Senate Bill 1037 to permit vertical integration of cannabis dispensaries, taking the number of licensed dispensaries to about 100.
West Virginia voters rejected all marijuana decriminalization attempts in local elections in 2019. In February 2019, the Normalization of Cannabis Act (HB 2331) was introduced by Danielle Walker to decriminalize marijuana and legalize the personal use and possession of marijuana by adults. However, the bill failed to advance and was stalled. The legal sale of medical marijuana was expected to begin in 2020, but it did not.
In 2021, West Virginia passed Senate Bill 231, a bill sponsored by Senator Takubo to amend several sections of the state's Medical Cannabis Act, as enacted in 2017. Senate Bill 231 amended various parts of the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Bill, including approved qualifying medical conditions and patient fees. It also made some required changes to the state's Medical Marijuana Program, which made patient registration available to eligible persons.
The first West Virginia medical cannabis dispensary opened in November 2021, making the beginning of legal medical cannabis sales in the state. In January 2023, Senator Caputo introduced Senate Bill 167, a bill seeking to legalize marijuana production, sales, and consumption for recreational purposes. However, the bill ultimately died at the Senate Judiciary Committee.