The production, use, possession, and sale of marijuana are illegal in West Virginia as in other parts of the country. Nonetheless, demand for the drug remains strong, and West Virginia is reputedly among the places inside the United States where marijuana is cultivated in significant quantities. Precise production figures are impossible to come by, but West Virginia has been among the top ten 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 is part of a larger effort known as the War on Drugs, involving 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 Appalachian High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (AHIDTA), which includes sections of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, combines the resources of state, local, and federal agencies toward the eradication of marijuana and other drugs. The primary focus of the AHIDTA is marijuana cultivation and distribution. In West Virginia, the AHIDTA includes Boone, Braxton, Cabell, Gilmer, Kanawha, Lewis, Lincoln, Logan, Mason, McDowell, Mingo, and Wayne counties.
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 223,000 in 2010, according to the West Virginia State Police. The marijuana is found in hundreds of outdoor plots, averaging a few dozen plants each, with a small fraction of the total found growing indoors. The estimated street value of the marijuana destroyed in 2010 was about $444 million.
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 much momentum.
This Article was written by Tom Haas
Last Revised on May 20, 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.