BECKLEY, WV (WVNS)–Advocates say marijuana is still controversial but could be used for addiction prevention and economic development.

More states are legalizing cannabis and with recent legislation passed in the House of Representatives to legalize it nationwide, advocates in West Virginia say now is the time for action with a state-specific approach.

“We legalize cannabis the right way, where the wealth and the ownership stays in West Virginia,” said WV Can’t Wait Co-Chair Stephen Smith. “Where we do not take away people’s other rights in order to legalize cannabis, particularly we need to protect second amendment rights and we need to truly end the war on drugs.”

A bill introduced in January aims to do exactly that. West Virginia Senate Bill 15 would legalize and decriminalize the consumption, sale, and production of marijuana across the state. The bill includes stipulations for taxes and regulations but did not move forward in the Senate during the legislative session.

Medical marijuana was legalized for some chronic conditions in 2017, with several dispensaries opening up across the state, sparking a new field of economic development.

One business owner started a new company centered around medical cannabis and believes the plant can help people struggling with addiction and create a new economic future for West Virginia.

“It is great for anxiety and I think, as opposed to taking a prescription drug which I think is a very slippery slope,” said Appalachian Cannabis Company CEO Chris Yeager. “When you start to look at folks that are using it for insomnia and other different ailments that way, there is no reason not to open up access and allow adults 21 and over to be able to access the plant.”

Yeager said there is potential for a wide-ranging industry with cannabis production, and it could help bring more jobs to the state, boosting tourism and economic development. He added education is vital to ensuring a successful rollout of medical or recreational marijuana and helping the state move against the stigma. He said the tax revenue from recreational sales could boost funding to schools and infrastructure, and provide a new selling point for people and businesses to migrate to the Mountain State.

(SOT: Yeager)

“Do not overregulate it, do not overtax it and I think it could absolutely be a wonderful thing for West Virginia,” Yeager added.