The debate would have to undo decades of faulty "drug education" which tried to establish direct causal links between so-called "gateway drugs," such as alcohol and pot, with harder intoxicants such as narcotics.
The gateway to hard drugs, however, has more often been an injury. For almost twenty years, report an injury to the doctor and he prescribes a strong narcotic. Prescription drugs, such as hydrocodone, have high rates of an addiction particularly tough to escape. The intoxicant is the same as that in heroin or opium, just stronger. Unlike conventional drugs, such as ibuprofen, they do not kill physical pain so much as they make the user not care that it exists.
Pills are big business. A pill mill pharmacy in Mingo County sold 3.2 million prescription units in a single year before the FBI busted it. Any better alternative coming into the market, especially one that could be grown in the user's backyard, would cut into both legal and illicit revenues.
Marijuana does have addicts, but not in the physical sense. It has very mild physical effects. Pot addiction is more along the lines of "addictions" to gambling, video games, and shopping, or even hyperfocusing on work. "Addicts" get irritated when they cannot obtain it, but have no physical withdrawal. People often overuse some form of stimulation or lack thereof to escape everyday life or feel good. Pot is less addictive than alcohol and certainly caffeine. It can get a hold on a person's mind, but does not wreck the body when people try to get off of it.
It makes sense to legalize pot even just for medical use. Unlike narcotics, which simply kill sensation, marijuana may have positive effects even on catastrophic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis. The District of Columbia and 21 states agree and legalized it. When choosing between drugs with strong physical and merely psychological effects, it seems that pot is the superior alternative.
West Virginia could reap a particular bonus from the movement. The Mountain State already produces a staggering amount of the plant. Legal cultivation could make currently unused land productive. Legal growth would help to fill state coffers with green. Millions could be made by people already in the state who already own the land. Tax revenues for states who fully legalized have been generous. In February of this year, Denver took in $3.2 million in tax revenue from pot alone.
West Virginia should legalize the production and sale of pot at least for medical use. The state has a massive pharmaceutical firm, land, and people who know how to work it. It should also consider at the very least legalizing pot that is grown and used within property boundaries.
With the money saved, the state could use more resources to go after drugs such as meth and pills that are destroying families and communities.