The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 23, 2012

Advocacy group aims to educate public

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

— A group advocating the legal use of marijuana to ease the suffering of cancer victims and others mired in severe pain has been active in West Virginia for more than a year now.

Formed in August 2011, WV-NORML is a state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

On its website, the group says its mission is to educate West Virginians about the benefits of using marijuana for medical purposes and “the relative safety” of smoking pot for recreation.

A spokesman for the state chapter says the original founders have gone their separate ways, leaving behind “a small core group of dedicated professionals” seeking to bring about change in state drug laws.

According to the WV-NORML, the most active place for the group to communicate is on the social network Facebook.

“We regularly post informative articles from mainstream sources around the Web,” the spokesman said.

The national organization’s website points to surveys showing that 10 percent of all Americans have used pot within the past year.

“The vast majority of marijuana smokers are good citizens who work hard, raise families, pay taxes, and contribute in a positive way to their communities,” the group said.

“They are certainly not part of the crime problem in this country and it is terribly unfair to treat them as criminals.”

Within the past decade, more than 5 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana-related offenses, and some 90 percent entailed usage, not trafficking.

As for its addictive propensity, the group says marijuana becomes habitual among fewer than one in 10, but 15 percent of alcohol users and 32 percent of all smokers get hooked.

Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, who plans a second effort next winter to legalize marijuana for medical usage only, says he could win more support, but many fear a backlash from voters in their district.

The WV-NORML spokesman agreed with that assessment.

“...the sad truth is that many people who avoid being active in reforming cannabis laws fear some sort of reprisals and at the very least some loss of respect from peers,” he said.

“This is a situation that needs to change and we are hoping that educational efforts will help them to hasten that process.”