The production, use, possession, and sale of marijuana are illegal in West Virginia as in many other parts of the country. Nonetheless, demand for the drug remains strong, and West Virginia is among the states where marijuana is cultivated in significant quantities, at least in part because of the state’s climate and terrain. Precise production figures are impossible to come by, but West Virginia has been among the top 10 states as regards marijuana plant eradication each year since 1985.
Legally, marijuana is the plant cannabis sativa. The active ingredient is a group of chemicals known collectively as tetrahydrocannabinols (THC). Enforcement of the state and federal laws concerning marijuana cultivation involves multiple and overlapping jurisdictions. Within the state, the state police, county sheriff departments, and city police are involved, as well as the Department of Natural Resources, Civil Air Patrol, and National Guard. At the federal level, the Drug Enforcement Administration is the principal agency.
The economic data on marijuana cultivation represents projections based on documented eradication, arrests, and related factors. Such projections suggest that marijuana is a major cash crop in West Virginia.
The number of marijuana plants destroyed in West Virginia ranged from 40,149 in 1998 to more than 189,000 in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The West Virginia State Police place a value of $2,000 on every plant, which means that the marijuana destroyed in 2012 had a “street value” of $378 million.
In 2012, West Virginia ranked fourth among all states in the number of plants that were eradicated. The job of eradicating marijuana often falls to the State Police. Troopers use helicopters to spot the plants from the air and all-terrain vehicles to reach them on the ground. In recent years, troopers have encountered man-made “booby traps” set by the growers to scare away unwanted visitors.
There are two other issues closely related to illegal marijuana cultivation, industrial hemp and medical marijuana. Hemp is a variety of cannabis that has less that one percent THC. The fibers and other parts of the hemp plant can be used for making textiles, rope, paper, paint, clothing, plastics, cosmetics, foodstuffs, insulation, animal feed, and other products. Historically, hemp was a valuable and legal crop in the United States, including present West Virginia.
The West Virginia legislature in 2002 legalized the cultivation of hemp under tightly controlled circumstances. This legislation also established licensing procedures to allow local farmers to plant, grow, harvest, possess, process, and sell hemp commercially. No funds were provided for the program, however, and as of 2013 the state Department of Agriculture had promulgated no regulations. The department expects to take no action in the absence of guidance or a more permissive attitude by federal authorities.
Several states have decriminalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes in recent years. In West Virginia, however, legislation that would legalize the use of marijuana by patients who are seriously ill has not gained momentum.
This Article was written by Tom Haas
Last Revised on May 21, 2013
National Drug Intelligence Center. West Virginia Drug Threat Assessment. Report. 2004.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "1998 Marijuana Crop Report." Washington NORML and NORML Foundation.
Office of National Drug Control Policy. The National High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program. Annual Report. 2004.
Cite This Article
Haas, Tom "Marijuana Cultivation." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 21 May 2013. Web. 27 January 2015.