Could W.Va. be a leader in marijuana, hemp?

BUCKHANNON — As interest in medicinal marijuana and hemp grows across the nation, states like West Virginia are seeing more people come together to push for less regulation.

Buckhannon was one of several cities around the state to host a pro-cannabis rally Saturday. The event in Jawbone Park brought people together to discuss the historical and political ramifications of cannabis and offered a glimpse of what could be coming in the future.

One new company ready to begin production of hemp products is bioRemedies MD. Local resident Mike Oldaker spoke on behalf of the company at Saturday’s event.

“In 1929, hemp became the first agricultural product in the United States to reach $1 billion in sales,” Oldaker said. “The sales were for rope, twine and clothing. Virtually every farmer in the United States was required to grow it to make rope during World War I, but it was also a threat to other agricultural industries.”

“Presidential cabinet members held interests in those threatened industries, and soon a marketing company was paid to create three films depicting people losing their marbles or becoming deranged when marijuana was smoked,” Oldaker said.

The most famous of those films is called “Reefer Madness.”

“Most research on cannabis in the United States from 1937 until the second decade of the 21st century has been predicated on the misinformation that all cannabis is psychoactive and intoxicating,” he claimed. “‘Reefer Madness’ was exceedingly successful because it was able to corral and instill in the public great fear and trepidation.”

That would eventually manifest into a heavy tax on any farmer that would grow hemp or marijuana — the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.

There were many other tax acts and commissions.

“The most important point I am trying to make is that hemp and marijuana were forever paired together legally despite the fact that hemp has no intoxicating properties and even our soldiers’ uniforms were made from hemp during World War I,” Oldaker said.

Fast forward to 2018.

“Much is happening as the medical community continues  to investigate and study both the medical value of both non-intoxicating hemp and intoxicating marijuana,” he said. “In my opinion, it is the experience of each person, one after another, that has contributed to an unprecedented medical value of this plant that is pushing the world from the shadows into a revolutionary change in our approach to healthcare.”

“We at bioRemedies, a new company that has invested in West Virginia and in Upshur County, want to be a part of that revolution in healthcare,” he said. “It is coming. The horse is out of the barn.”

BioRemedies MD is a Baltimore-based seed to sale hemp company that claims to produce pharmaceutical-grade CBD products such as gel capsules, oils and healing salves in a
$1 million laboratory.

Oldaker explained that CBD is the acronym for canabiodol.

“We are already growing hemp that will be transplanted to the field, harvested and processed in West Virginia,” he said.

There are already 50 acres contracted to grow hemp in Upshur County, he noted.

“We have chosen Upshur County as the focus of our multi-state strategic plan to build a state of the art processing center allowing us the capability to process hemp cannabis at a rate unprecedented in the state,” Oldaker said. “This capability will encourage the participation of farmers as they learn the pay-out crop value.”

Peaceful Vibes and Dyes is a shop located on the Frenchton Road in French Creek. Owner Misty Chidester, who set up as a vendor at the cannabis rally Saturday, sells a variety of items that are cosigned and some she makes herself.

“I make an herbal line of CBD chapsticks and hemp oil lotions,” she said. “I would have liked to have seen a little bigger turnout but I’m pleased with it. It will be nice to have some support for the movement. I think there a lot of benefits for our state with the opioid crisis, but also from the medical benefits people could get from the legal cannabis.”

About 40 people attended the pro-cannabis rally.

Chidester said she sees economic benefits that could help the state and also benefits to help cope with the opioid crisis.

“It is heartbreaking to see people on meth and pills,” she said.  “It will give people a healthier option.”

Edwina Howard-Jack, founding chair and director of Upshur Indivisible and Upshur Indivisible-Votes, said her organizations support the movement for economic development.

“Our state needs economic development,” she said. “We need revenue. I’m wearing a shirt now that says the Colorado solution because I believe that the Colorado solution can be the Mountain State miracle. 

“I believe that we could not only fund PEIA and give public employees a raise, we could also fund other needed items for our state like our crumbling infrastructure.”

Howard-Jack said cannabis is an industry that could rival oil and gas.

“Upshur Indivisible advocates campaign finance reform and getting money out of politics,” she said. “What does that have to do with cannabis? Everything. We must elect representatives who will work for the people of this state and not for special interests, big pharma and oil and gas. We can no longer let these big corporations get rich off the backs of working class West Virginians.”

Several political candidates also spoke at Saturday’s rally.

Robert Kincaid, a Republican running for House of Delegates 45th District, said, “It is very important for me to make sure that we go down the right path of anything, and cannabis is no different. We heard Mike talk about hemp oils, we heard Mike talk about cannabis and the medicinal use of cannabis. You have to separate those.

“I am pro when it comes to medicinal use of anything, whether it be hemp oils and hemp creams, if it can be derived from cannabis and is legally prepared and regulated and is a benefit to our society,” he said. “When it comes to recreational use of marijuana, I’m totally against that because there are so many adverse effects it has on our society.”

Kincaid said the W.Va. Legislature passed a law in 2017 allowing the medical use of marijuana.

“That’s well and good, but they haven’t come up with the rules and regulations of how to govern it and how to sell it,” he said. “The smoking aspects of recreational cannabis or pot as you would say doesn’t benefit our community at all.”

Democrat Matthew Kerner, executive director of Opportunity House Inc., a recovery organization, is also running for the House of Delegates in the 45th District, which covers most of Upshur County.

Kerner is in long-term recovery, which he said puts him in an awkward place on the issue.

“A lot of people I work with understand that addiction is not a criminal issue,” he said. “It’s a healthcare issue and needs to be treated as such. At the same time, they support tougher sentencing guidelines. They oppose this movement. To me, that never makes any sense.

“I am fully in support of what is happening here and what is happening across the state.”

Kerner said he had some suggestions for people in the movement based on his experiences.

“It would be helpful if we would quit doing a couple things,” he said. “Quit saying it’s not addictive, because it is. Not for everybody. There is a certain percentage of the population that is going to be addicted whether or not this is legal. There is a certain percentage of the population that would be addicted whether or not every drug on the planet were legal. That number is not going to change whether or not it is legal.”

“People who are currently using need to keep it from getting in the hands of kids,” he said. “The biggest fear of people who are opposed to this is that it will end up more frequently in the hands of kids and there is scientific evidence on their part that if you give it to kids while their brains are still developing, that there is a higher probability it will lead to addiction later in life and it will lead to other substances.”

Kerner also believes in criminal justice reform.

“I believe in addition to legalization moving forward, we need to discharge sentences for people who are currently incarcerated by the marijuana laws and we need to go back and tear up records from people who were convicted years ago,” he said. “There are a lot of people who face difficulty getting jobs or can’t work in their particular profession anymore. It’s absolute nonsense and it doesn’t help anybody.”

Paula Jean Swearengin, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, said, “We need to end the addiction epidemic and we need a diverse economy. How are we going to see a diverse economy in West Virginia? The first step is the decriminalization of marijuana/cannabis and legalization. We could see economic growth within six to eight months, so not only are we going to reap medical benefits but that is a start for the growth of Appalachia.

“We can legalize marijuana. Look at Colorado. The model is there. It’s set in place and it can serve us.”

Talley Sergent, running for U.S. House of Representatives in the Second Congressional District as a Democrat, said she believed that “by legalizing at the federal level medicinal marijuana we are able to help alleviate some of the chronic pain, some of the ailments that face West Virginians, to help us get off this opioid superhighway. To help our veterans who suffer from PTSD and to help anyone who suffers from certain medical issues such as cancer or any other issues.”

This is something West Virginia needs to lead on, she said.

“We have the opportunity and we need to do this at the federal level. Not only do we need to pass and legalize medicinal marijuana, but we also need to decriminalize it. In addition, I do believe we should legalize growing hemp in West Virginia because I do believe that both cannabis and hemp are both cash crops that we can grow in West Virginia, rebuild our state, put our money back into our communities and invest in our people.”

Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, is running to keep his seat in the State Senate 11th District.

“This is not an issue that was even remotely on my radar when I got down to Charleston,” he said. “It’s probably not an issue that a lot of you guys thought was going to be on the agenda when Republicans took over.

“I think we do take our responsibility very seriously in terms of what we do in Charleston, in terms of trying to make West Virginia better for everybody.  I was well convinced based on the evidence I saw that [medical marijuana] was something that was going to help people in West Virginia, whether folks who have cancer, veterans who have PTSD or neuromuscular diseases.”

Rally organizer Amanda Barbo-Vezinat wants supporters of the pro-cannabis movement to continue to push their legislators and Gov. Jim Justice to do more.

The West Virginia Legislature passed the Medical Cannabis Act in 2017 which was signed by Justice, but a bill to expand that died in the Legislature this year.

“Governor Justice while posting on social media that he supports our fight went in and removed the $2 million funding for our program,” she said.

The rally, which was sponsored by West Virginia Green is the New Black, went well overall, according to Barbo-Vezinat.


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