OxyContin and other painkillers cause severe addiction in West Virginia. Many reports tell of "pillbillies" wrecking their lives, losing their jobs, destroying their marriages and dying of overdoses.
Medical marijuana is a different painkiller that can ease suffering of cancer victims, arthritis patients and other unfortunate folks without such damage from addiction.
Yet OxyContin is perfectly legal in the Mountain State, while it's a crime to possess pot. Does this make sense?
A new statewide survey by Public Policy Polling found that West Virginians favor legalization of medical marijuana by a 53-40 margin. Delegate Mike Maypenny, D-Taylor, plans to reintroduce a bill to authorize "compassionate" use of pot as a prescribed pain reliever -- following the pattern in numerous other states.
When the Legislature convenes Feb. 13, we think conscientious lawmakers should consider this reform seriously. We see no reason to oppose it. Reporter Paul Nyden quoted Spencer emergency physician Paul Clancy:
"No patient battling a serious medical condition should have to risk possible arrest and imprisonment for using a medicine most West Virginians recognize as being safer than OxyContin."
Across America, old taboos against pot are fading. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia now allow medical usage. During the November election, voters in Colorado and Washington state legalized recreational puffing. Various other states have reduced criminal penalties, so that possession draws merely a minor fine like a parking ticket.
The same PPP poll that found West Virginia backing for medical pot also found support for lower punishment. Why damage the future of young West Virginians with felony records and jail terms for a casual social habit practiced by thousands?
Remarkably, commercial firms are springing up to profit from the national change. Some supply pot for legal prescriptions. Some supply lights and equipment for indoor growing. Maybe West Virginia could gain a legal industry from hilltop patches currently destroyed by helicopter-borne police -- and the state government could gain tax revenue from it.As we've said before, America's "war on drugs" is a costly failure. Prohibition of dope doesn't work any better than prohibition of alcohol did in the 1920s. Prisons are over-crammed with offenders, but usage doesn't diminish. It's time to try more workable approaches.