Lynne Schwartz-Barker uses hemp oil to help with an autoimmune disorder.

“This is a very big deal for me, and it affects my daily life so I have actively been looking for an answer I can live with,” she said.

Over-the-counter medicines don’t help, and prescription drugs have “too many scary side effects.” She’d prefer having a stronger cannabis option, because “there are a lot of medical issues like mine that tradition medicine is not helping.”

Today she will rally with others on the state capitol steps to decriminalize medical marijuana in West Virginia.

Timing is important since it also marks the first day of the new legislative session.

Given the state’s projected $500 million budget shortfall, she and other grassroots activists believe medical marijuana could become a revenue stream while also providing jobs.

Danny Bragg, one of the event organizers, is expecting a sizeable crowd and won’t be surprised if hundreds show up to support the proposed change in state law.

“Right now the two social media sites we are tracking show that about 500 people are planning to come. But even if we get 250 people at this peaceful event that will be amazing because we are going to be there for the right reasons,” said Bragg, a Marshall University graduate student and founder of West Virginia Green is the New Black, a pro-medical marijuana organization.

There is a growing interest in legalizing medical marijuana at the local level, as well as with some top policymakers, he said.

“If you look at this movement there aren’t any high-paid lobbyists or professionals doing this. It is generally being done from a grassroots perspective by people who care,” he said.

People who support the movement are sending him their stories, and it is heartbreaking to hear what they are enduring.

One woman suffers from a neurological disorder called peripheral poly neuropathy along with anxiety and being bi-polar. She took part in a study on how cannabis helped deal with pain, and still uses it but lives in fear her insurance will be cancelled if her identity is revealed.

“That’s really a sad situation because not only is she getting relief, it is costing less than the traditional drugs used to treat these ailments. So it should be a win/win, but that won’t happen until she can use it legally here,” Bragg said.

One of his former high school friends is traveling back and forth to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, to be treated with cannabis for a rare form of epilepsy, and the doctor advised here to move there, he said.

Legislators are slowly coming around too, and there’s increasing hope for the 2017 session.

Last February Senate Bill 640 was introduced by Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and three other senators as co-sponsors.

“And we are lucky that our governor has gone on the record saying he would be supportive of medical marijuana,” Bragg said.

As a Democratic candidate last year, Gov. Jim Justice said in various media interviews and articles that he would consider legalizing it.

Eight to 10 legislators may be willing to serve as co-sponsors and several bills are ready to be introduced as needed, Bragg said.

He praised Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, for his ongoing efforts on behalf of state residents who are also suffering but believe their conditions will improve with the medical use of marijuana.

Public education efforts are slowly paying off as people realize different properties in marijuana and how they work in the body.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive agent, while cannabidiol (CBD) is not.

“In other words, CBD can’t get you high. And I hope there isn’t anyone who believes that we are supporting medical marijuana with the idea of getting children high. A number of studies have already pointed out the benefits from CBD,” he said.

West Virginia is now in the minority when it comes to the number of states that have modernized their marijuana laws to “reflect the growing evidence that doing so will help reduce criminal justice costs, help treat some medical conditions, and boost tax revenues and their state’s economy,” according to a Charleston-based nonprofit agency.

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy’s in-depth report on the potential benefits from legalizing marijuana found that it could result in a substantial revenue stream.

If recreational marijuana was legalized and taxed at a rate of 25 percent of its wholesale price the state could collect an estimated $45 million annually, according to the August 2016 report.

And if 10 percent of the marijuana users who live within a 200-mile radius of West Virginia came to the state to purchase it, the state could collect an estimated $194 million, it states.

There is also the potential to add jobs, because the marijuana industry has created 25,311 new jobs in Colorado and there are over 1,000 retail marijuana shops.

“Marijuana may potentially have a positive impact on the state’s opioid-based painkiller and heroin epidemic by offering another, less addictive alternative to individuals who are suffering from debilitating medical conditions,” the report reads.

Twenty nine states plus the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, 13 states have decriminalized certain marijuana possession offenses and eight state plus the District of Columbia have legalized it. Sixteen states have legalized the use of CBD oil.

All of this momentum is good news to Grafton resident Mike Manypenny, a former Democratic House of Delegates member, who hasn’t given up on this goal.

He still vividly remembers the stigma in 2012 associated with being the sole sponsor of a bill to legalize marijuana in limited and medical cases.

Although his bills never came out of committee, Manypenny said he continued to talk to other legislators about the value of the proposed legislation to regulate medical marijuana.

Slowly some of them came around and eventually others sponsored his bill, he said.

“We have come a long way since those early days, but I personally want to see it through to the end.”

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