,On June 23, 2016, ferocious rain inundated several counties in West Virginia. In the end, four counties were ravaged by a “thousand-year flood” that killed twenty-three people, wiped out family homes, and gobbled up millions of dollars in places that were already struggling. The velocity and volume of the rainfall wrought devastation in a matter of hours and forever altered life for many families in West Virginia. And now, we West Virginians are locked into another devastating force that is killing people and communities: the opioid addiction crisis.
This drug addiction crisis in West Virginia, while not as visibly evident as the destruction wreaked by the floods, has been ravaging our state since before the rain started to fall in June 2016. It has killed so many people that the indigent burial program in West Virginia has run out of money (more people die of drug addiction per capita than any other state in the country, by far), destroyed families, and dealt a crushing blow to communities that have been fighting to survive for decades. Those who are gripped by the disease of substance abuse and seeking help cannot get it because there are not enough detox and rehab center beds to treat them. Our jobs base has been weakening for years and the few employers left struggle to find employees who can pass a drug test. The damage caused to addicts’ bodies, even if they are able to get treatment and stay clean, can have lifelong devastating effects on their health. This is a crisis of epic proportions and it is rapidly worsening.
At the same time our friends and families in West Virginia are suffering, our communities are struggling to survive. We have food deserts, healthcare deserts, and deep educational deficits in communities throughout the state. People struggle to make state and federal benefits stretch long enough to cover a month’s rent, food, and healthcare costs. Our population numbers have been in a downward spiral for years. People are leaving West Virginia every day to find work and others are dying of drug overdoses. Our communities are literally crumbling. But there is one solution in particular that we West Virginians can embrace to start to turn the ship, if we have the political will to make it happen: nationally legalized medical marijuana. If the federal government legalized medical marijuana, we could bring in new jobs to every community in West Virginia, pump resources into a crippled state budget to support schools and infrastructure without taxing the middle class, and help fight deadly pain pill addiction by allowing people in pain to seek non-addictive pain relief.
The misconceptions about medical marijuana are vast, but the state has recently legalized some forms of medical marijuana because we understand how beneficial it can be and how low-risk it really is. One of the main obstacles to taking advantage of this incredibly lucrative resource is the federal government. As long as the federal government treats medical marijuana as an illegal narcotic, states are hesitant to rely on this new income stream for fear that legal operations in the state could be shut down by the federal government. The federal law needs to change, and we need representation in Washington, D.C. to champion that message. I am running for Congress to be that person.
If we couple our understanding of the benefits of medical marijuana and innovation with our resourcefulness, we will forge a path to prosperity. West Virginians are used to doing a lot with a little. We have farmers building horizontal plant beds in their barns with PVC pipe and garden hoses to grow strawberries and lettuce, but they could be growing marijuana and supplying it to a new market throughout the United States. We have abundant water, sunshine, and rich soil (and land that can be reclaimed and rehabilitated) to support crops. We have a hard-working labor force that wants to stay in West Virginia. We can do this — we just need the federal government to get out of our way. In Congress, I will fight for West Virginians’ freedom to stay in West Virginia, and I’ll make legalizing medical marijuana across the United States my top priority in Washington to help us fight opioid addiction, build a solid jobs base, and rebuild our communities. It’s the right thing to do for America, and it’s the right thing to do for West Virginia.