Republican Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia indicated at a virtual town hall meeting on Tuesday that he is open to relaxing his position against legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in the state. Justice made the comments during an online meeting with voters as he promoted his proposal to eliminate the state’s personal income tax.

During the town hall, Justice was asked by an attendee if he supported fully legalizing and taxing marijuana in West Virginia as a way to create a new source of revenue.

“I don’t,” Justice said, quickly adding, “but I am weakening on that position.”

The governor went on to say that he has heard from respected sources that there are social benefits to legalizing cannabis for use by adults, saying “the medical community tells me the legalizing of marijuana from a recreational standpoint has lowered their drug problems.”

He also noted that while he has not yet acquired all of the information necessary to change his personal opinion on the legalization of recreational marijuana, he acknowledged that reform appears inevitable. He also indicated that he would consent if the state legislature takes the lead on the issue.

“I’m not educated enough to make a really good assessment as of yet, but I do believe that wave is coming across all our states,” he continued. “If our House and Senate gets behind that effort and legalizes marijuana, I would too.”

Republicans Lead Drive To Nix State Income Tax

Justice and Republican lawmakers are in the process of weighing options to implement a proposal to eliminate the state’s tax on personal income, which would result in an estimated $2 billion per year loss in revenue. A mix of cuts to government services, increases on other taxes, and sources of new funding are all under consideration to make up the difference.

Early last month, House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa sent an informal poll to his Republican colleagues in the legislature to gauge their support on a variety of proposals to compensate for the resulting budget shortfall. Lawmakers were asked to consider a list of a dozen options including cuts to higher education and social programs, raising the state’s sales tax, new taxes on professional services, and raising new revenue by legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana.

Espinosa said any suggestion that the proposals made in the poll are already included in a final plan are “ludicrous.”

“Generally speaking, we routinely reach out to our members to gauge their perspective on various issues or even components of issues to gauge whether they’re components of legislation they can support or, just as importantly, if not more importantly, which components are non-starters,” Espinosa said. “Frankly, we even sometimes ask our members questions when we have a sense that it may be a non-starter or may not have much support just to confirm that.”

“I think it’s fair to say … some of those are non-starters.”
West Virginia currently has a limited medical marijuana program. If the state legalizes recreational cannabis, it would join a growing trend in the region. Lawmakers in neighboring Virginia approved the legalization of marijuana for adult use last weekend, and legislation is also under consideration in Maryland.