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Marijuana Cultivation


The production, use, possession, and sale of recreational marijuana are illegal in West Virginia. 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 state and federal laws concerning marijuana cultivation involves multiple and overlapping jurisdictions. In West Virginia, the state police, county sheriff departments, and city police are involved, as well as the Division 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 represent projections based on documented eradication, arrests, and related factors. Such projections suggest that marijuana is a major cash crop that places West Virginia an estimated third in the nation per capita in terms of cultivation.

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 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 per capita that had been eradicated. By 2022, West Virginia ranked first in this category.

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. After passage of the 2014 federal Farm Bill, the state Department of Agriculture launched a pilot program in which hemp growers must apply for an application. Between 2017 and 2020, the number of licensed hemp growers in West Virginia increased from 46 to 311. However, less than half the registered acreage was being used to cultivate hemp.

Several states have decriminalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes in recent years. In 2017, Governor Jim Justice signed into law a medical cannabis bill, which was amended in 2019 and again in 2020, that allows registered users to take medical marijuana in the form of pills, oils, liquids, dermal patches, topical creams, nebulizer treatments, or dry leaf. The first medical cannabis dispensary opened in Morgantown in 2021. As of March 2023, nearly 20,000 medical cannabis applications had been approved in the state, with nine operational cannabis growers, 44 operational dispensaries, and seven operational processors; revenues have exceeded $36 million.

Written by Tom Haas


  1. National Drug Intelligence Center. West Virginia Drug Threat Assessment. Report. 2004.

  2. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "1998 Marijuana Crop Report." Washington NORML and NORML Foundation.

  3. Office of National Drug Control Policy. The National High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program. Annual Report. 2004.

  4. U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration. "West Virginia Fact Sheet." Washington United States Government Printing Office, 2005.

  5. Michie's West Virginia Code, Chapter 60A. Charlottesville: Lexis Pub..