But if there’s money to be made in cannabis while keeping it illegal, it seems lawmakers are all over it. State Sen. Clark Barnes openly admitted as much yesterday when he hinted that the state should grow cannabis and sell it to states where it is legal. Apparently nobody has told him that interstate commerce off of cannabis remains a pretty high-priority federal crime.
“We may never legalize marijuana in West Virginia, but maybe the potential exists for us to export the crop,” Barnes told fellow lawmakers yesterday, according to the Charleston Gazette.
Despite the hypocrisy of denying West Virginians cannabis grown in their state, the idea seemed to gain traction. State Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick has been saying that the state needs to increase their agricultural output by as much as $6 billion to keep up with money flowing out of the state.
Barnes dangled the cannabis cash carrot before Helmick yesterday in a committee meeting. “This may be your $6 billion right there,” Barnes said.
Helmick didn’t outright support the idea, but he didn’t reject either. His final words on the subject to the state Finance Committee seemed to leave the door wide open for future action: “If [the state legislature]says this is right for West Virginia, we’ll have our eyes on it.”
Budget issues are a huge problem for Helmick’s department, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them attempt to move forward on this issue. The department has gone from 269 to 255 employees in recent months and are currently exploring other “alternative agriculture” uses for their state including hog farming on the sites of former strip mines. Hog farming is a $2.5 billion industry for the state, but limited land has kept growth stagnant.
Marijuana cultivation in West Virginia is usually charged as possession, with the number and total weight of the plants (and the dirt and the roots) factoring into sentencing. Cultivation found to be for distribution is a felony charge with anywhere from the mandatory minimum one year in jail up to five years. The state can also seize any houses, cars or even land that facilitated the production of pot.