Individuals gathered Saturday in Jim Word Memorial Park in Beckley as part of a statewide pro-cannabis rally with a goal to move forward with the outgrowth of the medical marijuana movement, along with requesting local activists and supporters to have actions outside of the state Capitol in Charleston.
Although it was a warm and sunny day filled with music from a variety of singers and bands, yard games, and a few tasty treats, it was also a somber day for many as those in attendance discussed what the opioid epidemic has done to many of their loved ones, and how further growing the medical marijuana movement could save many lives.
With markers in hands, many wrote names of their loved ones who have lost their lives on a piece of tape and stuck it to an orange prescription bottle in remembrance. Above each bottle, a sign read "these bottles represent lives lost to opiate/opioid addiction." It stated daily 22 lives are lost, 154 weekly, 600 monthly and over 8,000 every year.
Christina Baisden, West Virginia Green is the New Black organizer, said the overall goal of Saturday's statewide rally was to show that all are in support of legalizing cannabis, not only from a medical standpoint but a manufacturing standpoint as well.
"It would be a great way to bring jobs into the state," Baisden said, "and if it were fully legalized, I truly believe it would help the opioid epidemic crisis we have going on in this state and the addiction that comes with it."
Many throughout the crowd stood and listened while some shared their testimonies and their passion about the full legalization of marijuana.
Beckley resident Tammy Taylor explained she is in full support of the movement, simply because she believes cannabis is far from being addictive.
Taylor, who has had back issues for many years, has had surgical procedures on both her back and knee. She said during her recovery she was prescribed a lot of painkillers.
"I had been on a lot of medicine. I had to begin to ween myself off of it," she said. "it was difficult and my husband and I went through a lot because of it.
"I firmly believe if it didn't have such a stigma of being bad and people were more educated on the matter, they'd understand cannabis is not addictive like painkillers. It truly relaxes you, and you don't continue to need it the way you do prescribed painkillers."
State Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, made a pitstop at Beckley's rally before he visited the other rallies across the state and shared his adamant views on what cannabis could do for the state.
As Ojeda stood before the crowd sporting a green shirt with "medical cannabis now" printed on the back, he turned around with his back facing the crowd and both thumbs pointing at his shirt and said, "This is what we need; we need this now."
Ojeda recalled when he first became a state senator two years ago he was sitting in his office thinking "now what?" He said he remembered his now close friend, Rusty Williams, coming into his office with a face tattoo and long hair telling Ojeda he wanted to discuss with him the aspects of medical cannabis.
"As a person like myself that has spent 24 years in the U.S. military, I have a lot of brothers out there that suffer from post traumatic stress disorder," he said, "and as I began this conversation with Rusty I started realizing I had heard about medical cannabis in other areas that have allowed it to be used, and it showed great results from those who suffer from those who not only suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, but other diseases as well, and those diseases were made better due to medial cannabis.
"From then on I said, 'That's my fight.'"
Ojeda said he has a goal of decriminalizing marijuana.
"There are men sitting in a jail cell for getting caught growing a seed, and our money is housing them there," he said, "and that's just not right.
"I want to continue to move forward with this movement and finally do something to benefit the people in West Virginia."
Marijuana for West Virginia founder Cody Watkins shared with the crowd not only his support for medical cannabis, but his passion for the full legalization of it. He said full legalization of marijuana would bring in more industries into the state.
"We absolutely need full recreational," he said. "We need to get all in here and have no limits on dispensaries, no limits on grow facilities, nothing. We need it all."
Watkins said he was unsure why people would not want money from facilities or dispensaries coming into the state.
As he addressed the crowd once more, Watkins said everyone in the state needs to work toward correcting the stigmas against cannabis.
Treats were also served throughout the rally, including granola bars made from hemp seeds.
Coal River Hemp's project coordinator Vinnie Samolis said agricultural hemp could be important for the state, and solve a lot of economic and social problems stemming from the opioid epidemic.
Samolis noted over 50,000 different uses for hemp, the cannabis plant.
"It can be used for food for humans, food for pets, bedding for pets, topical oils, plastics, super conductor batteries, construction materials, paper and so much more," he said. "It can do so much for this state."
The famous granola bars — eaten by many — were high in protein, Samolis added.
"Hemp seed is essentially 33 percent protein, and contains several nutrients," he said. "There's so much good stuff in there for you.
"It's something that is helpful to society, and people need to realize that."
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