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New group to push for pot reform in West Virginia

Photo provided to Parkersburg News and Sentinel Justin Quinn, left, and Robert Kerr of Parkersburg, right, are gearing up efforts to push for a medical marijuana reform law at the state Capitol in Charleston.
Photo provided to Parkersburg News and Sentinel
Justin Quinn, left, and Robert Kerr of Parkersburg, right, are gearing up efforts to push for a medical marijuana reform law at the state Capitol in Charleston.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Wood County residents are members of a newly formed nonprofit organization that is pushing for marijuana reform in West Virginia.

The West Virginia Cannabis Alliance recently became the first and only 501(c)(4) cannabis organization in the state, said Justin Quinn of Belle, executive director of the alliance.

The WVCA wants the West Virginia Legislature to pass a medical cannabis law during the 2016 legislative session, Quinn said. An eventual law legalizing recreational marijuana use in the state also is in the organization’s sights.

Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, was the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 546, which would have created the Compassionate Use Act for Medical Cannabis, during this year’s West Virginia legislative session. The bill died in the Committee on Health and Human Resources.

“Our goals are medical and then recreational legalization,” Quinn, 28, said. “Especially considering that you can already buy it (marijuana) everywhere in West Virginia any day of the week.

“The problem is that it is not regulated and we are not gaining tax revenue,” Quinn said, adding that legal marijuana dispensaries in other states require the IDs of purchasers, while “drug dealers don’t.”

Robert Kerr, a 2013 graduate of Parkersburg South High School, is communications director for the West Virginia Cannabis Alliance. On Aug. 6, he received a certificate of completion from Oaksterdam University in Oakland, Calif., a medical marijuana training school, where he took classes in politics, history, legal, civics, advocacy, horticulture, science, cooking and other topics relating to cannabis.

“I believe West Virginia is nearing a tipping point in this industry, and I’m just excited to be involved this way,” said Kerr, a junior at West Virginia University.

Kerr said he became interested in the medical benefits of marijuana during his mother’s seven-year battle with cancer. Carrie R. Montgomery Kerr, 50, of Parkersburg passed away on Feb. 2.

Kerr wants to be part of a lobbyist team that discusses the medical benefits of cannabis with legislators next year.

Quinn said other board members of the West Virginia Cannabis Alliance include John Wires, deputy director; Anna Tanner, treasurer; Gerald Moran, secretary, and Cindy Wimer, all of Wood County. Alliance chapters are being formed throughout the state, said Quinn, a Republican candidate for the District 36 House of Delegates.

“WVCA’s first weekly video conference will be Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 5 p.m., so members will be able to attend all of our meetings with members from all over the state,” Quinn said.

Alliance supporters are planning a “positive, serious and well-organized” approach when discussing cannabis reform issues at the state Capitol, said Quinn. The alliance wants to work with other cannabis and hemp groups that have similar goals and build a strong communications network, he added.

“Legislators were confused” this year when they were approached about cannabis issues, because there was no unified front, Quinn said. “We will band together,” he said, adding WVCA hopes to have registered lobbyists this year.

Quinn said he is confident West Virginia will become the next medical marijuana state. He sees bipartisan support in the Legislature for a medical marijuana law.

“I would rather small business owners in West Virginia, supplying new jobs in an explosive industry to make the money, than someone on the black market,” Quinn said about legalizing the sale of cannabis.

“Regulation will bring better quality and you will know what you are buying. It’s safer access and it is important,” Quinn said.

Jobs would be created not only in the growing and selling of cannabis but also in spin-off industries such as testing, packaging and advertising, Quinn said.

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