West Virginia Senate President Says Marijuana Could Be Legalized To Help Curb Fentanyl Epidemic, ‘Sooner Than Later’

West Virginia’s Republican Senate president says that legalizing marijuana could help ease the state’s crush of fatal fentanyl overdoses, predicting that the policy change will come “sooner than later” but probably not in the new legislative session.

“My gut tells me it might not happen this year,” Senate President Craig Blair (R) said at a media event last week, according to West Virginia Public Broadcasting. “But you’re going to see it sooner than later, because that is a way to combat the issue.”

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that West Virginia had more fatal fentanyl overdoses per capital in 2022 than any other state in the nation.

The Senate president also noted that he sees a lot of West Virginia license plates at marijuana dispensaries when he’s visiting other states, according to West Virginia watch.

Speaking to the fentanyl problem, Blair also claimed at the event that “there is a problem in the state of West Virginia when marijuana, over 70 percent of it that gets tested, has fentanyl on it.” He is supporting legislaiton that would apply the death penalty to people who sell fentanyl.

It’s not clear what data, if any, Blair was referencing with that assertion. The organization Partnership to End Addiction says there’s “no solid evidence that marijuana is being laced with fentanyl.”

House Minority Leader Sean Hornbuckle (D) also discussed his own party’s support for legalization in West Virginia.

“We’re a believer in adult-use cannabis,” he said, pointing out that policy change “polls well into the 60s” in terms of percent of voter support.

“That is something that we can have in our toolkit that can help pay for items,” he told the event’s attendees.

Despite past surveys finding majority support among voters for the policy change, marijuana legalization efforts have progressed slowly in West Virginia.

In 2022, activists attempted to put decriminalization measures on two municipal ballots in the state, but neither effort was ultimately successful. Similar efforts were undertaken in four cities a year earlier, but those efforts also fell short. In 2019, Salem voters rejected a similar reform proposal at the ballot box.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R), for his part, said in 2021 that although he’s not personally a fan of marijuana legalization, he would support the reform if the legislature sent a bill to his desk.

Despite Blair’s skepticism that West Virginia will move to legalize marijuana this session, a number of other states—including Florida, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and South Dakota—could join the ranks of legal cannabis states in 2024.

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