Dozens of Marion County residents gathered at Palatine Park Saturday to take part in a statewide rally for cannabis, as well as to protest opioids and opioid abuse.
The event, led by West Virginia Women for Cannabis representatives Rikki Butler and Holly Smith, focused on using medical marijuana as a “humane alternative to the opioid crisis.”
“A lot of the overdose rates have shot up, and people close to me have died as a result,” Butler said. “We believe in a more humane approach to addiction rather than just substituting one narcotic for another. That’s kept us in this cycle.
“Right now, there are two main focuses. One is that (addiction) is a disease. The other, which is more of a silent movement, is that it’s a human contact approach. We’re all filling that void of addiction one way or another,” she said.
Butler said allowing cannabis to be used for medical purposes would help combat opioid addiction. It would offer an alternative for people already addicted to opioids, and it wold serve as a preventative measure to keep people from becoming addicted, she said.
“Making cannabis available would cut down on the need to go and get that feeling from a doctor or prescribed,” Butler said. “We’re not saying that it’s going to replace pain pills. There’s no way that it could. However, it could replace Methadone and Suboxone.”
Fairmont resident Warren Hilsbos, who acted as master of ceremonies for the rally, said the main goal was to broaden public perceptions.
“More knowledge and more perspective can’t hurt anybody,” Hilsbos said. “It’s a great way to approach what I’m sure is, for some people, a difficult topic. … With the main topic, there are biases and perceptions to consider, so we want to make it as open and friendly as possible.”
Hilsbos said progress can begin only through introducing ideas and alternatives to the established system.
“Our hope is to make people more open to the policy opportunities for cannabis,” Hilsbos said. “We want a more open-minded approach to dealing with pain and pain management than what has been the primary policy focus for the past few decades, which has been various attempts to repackage opioid products for mass consumption. … That may not have been a wise policy choice.”
Butler acknowledged she was worried about how the public and local government would respond to the rally, but said she was happy with how things went leading up to the event.
“I was surprised, because they actually gave us a very overwhelming response,” Butler said. “(People) are happy that someone finally broke the ice on this taboo conversation. We’ll be those pioneers.”
Several elected officials, including state Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, and Rep. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, gave their endorsements for medical cannabis at the rally.
Butler and Hilsbos hope those endorsements will get even more people on board.
“Seeing that those leaders in our community can come out and actually be pro-cannabis actually will open up the public,” Butler said. “We’re hoping by seeing these people step forward, we’ll once again break that ice.”
Hilsbos described the rally as an opportunity.
“It’s a good way for them to interact with the community and an opportunity for the community to come out here with them and respond in what I hope will remain a totally friendly and open atmosphere,” Hilsbos said. “That’s the meat of things here.”