Don’t just leap into legal weed

Rest assured that what interests state legislators most about the potential to legalize recreational marijuana in West Virginia is a number: $250 million. That is how much Colorado government is expected to have raked in last year from taxes and fees on marijuana sales.

In all likelihood, Mountain State lawmakers this year will see a bill to permit sale of marijuana for recreational purposes.

Among advocates of such action is House of Delegates member Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio. He told us a few days ago a legalization bill will be introduced during the session of the Legislature, which begins Jan. 9.

Fluharty has an interesting perspective on legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. He believes it may help our coal industry. “West Virginia coal will power cannabis,” he told our reporter.

About 2 percent of Colorado’s electric consumption is by the marijuana growing industry, Fluharty explains. Legalizing the drug here could provide a similar boost to our electric utilities, still powered primarily by coal, he contends.

But the big money would flow to marijuana growers, marketers — and state government. Looking at Colorado, some state officials may expect that legalization here could pump $80 million a year or so into Charleston.

Ten states and the District of Columbia already have made sale of marijuana for recreational purposes permissible. Why not get on the bandwagon?

West Virginia already has legalized use of the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, for medicinal purposes, though when sales will begin is uncertain.

Yet skeptics worry that we do not know enough about the social and economic effects of a full-blown pot industry. Colorado, which has had one for five years, is just coming to grips with that.

A state-sponsored study there indicates some fears about legalization, such as more use by teenagers, may be unfounded. But others, such as an increase in driving while intoxicated by marijuana, are very real.

About 7 percent of all arrests for driving under the influence in Colorado involve marijuana. In 2017, 35 fatal car crashes were caused by DUI-marijuana.

Clearly, there are reasons for concern.

We will know more about the situation after Friday, when a Legislative Lookahead program sponsored by the West Virginia Press Association takes place in Charleston. It gives members of the press an opportunity to hear and question experts and policymakers n various topics. Marijuana is on the agenda this week.

For now, however, there may be too many questions about recreational marijuana to consider it here. Why not gain some experience with medicinal THC and learn more before moving on?