Ashton Marra Published

Candidates for Governor Take on Marijuana at Charleston Debate


At their second televised forum in three days, two of the three Democratic candidates for Governor continued their push to convince the voters of West Virginia to cast ballots in their favor during the upcoming primary election. 

The WCHS-TV gubernatorial debate featured only two of the three Democrats running for Governor, Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler and former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.

Front runner Jim Justice was in Beckley Monday evening discussing education reform with members of the public at a campaign roundtable.

The hour-long debate focused heavily on budgetary issues, the state’s substance abuse epidemic and the need to improve infrastructure, including both West Virginia’s roadways and broadband access.

The two candidates showed similar resolve to finding solutions to those problems.

It was a question about legalizing marijuana that had the two on opposite sides of the fence.

Kessler said he believes legalizing medical marijuana to aid in the treatment of serious diseases like cancer should be considered in West Virginia, but he referred to a bill that would have allowed the sale of alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings as a sign that the Legislature would not move on such an issue.

The brunch bill, as it was commonly referred to, was approved by lawmakers, but now includes a county referendum to allow for such sales.

“I think we need to decriminalize some of the particularly marijuana offenses,” Kessler said. “There are way too many people that have got a criminal record that can no longer work.”

“These folks are now permanently under or unemployable because they have some, because they smoked pot or got caught with an ounce of pot when they were 21-years-old.”

As U.S. Attorney, Goodwin spent a good deal of his time prosecuting drug-related crimes and was less sure about legalizing the drug.

“People don’t understand that the marijuana of today has 10 times the THC content of the marijuana of the late ’60s, early ’70s,” Goodwin said, “but here is the problem I have ultimately is, every time we have arrested a druggy, they have said they went through marijuana.

“Is that because it is crossing that bright line of illegality, or is it because that it is a true gateway, that’s the difficulty I have.”

All three candidates — Goodwin, Kessler and Justice — will face off in the May 10 primary. The last day to register to vote is Tuesday, April 19.

In a statement to WCHS-TV, Jim Justice’s campaign said it would be impossible for him to participate in every debate held by every media outlet in the state.