If West Virginia students are interested in participating in a new program that allows them to attend community colleges for free, they’ll have to make sure they haven’t smoked any marijuana recently.

It was announced on Thursday that THC will be on a list of banned substances for participants in the program, funding for which was approved unanimously by the state Senate in February via Senate Bill 284.

“The motivation for the bill is to lift the education-attainment level for all West Virginians and give them a pathway to a brighter future,” said legislation sponsor and state Senate president Mitch Carmichael at the time of the bill’s passage. “From a state perspective, it helps us say to the world that our workforce is drug-free, trained, educated, and ready to go to work.”

A consultant who is working on the program announced that applicants will also be tested for opiates, oxycodone, hydrocodone, cocaine, amphetamines, and other substances. If a student is able to provide proof that they are consuming a drug for a medical purpose, they will be exempted from tests on the substance.  

The program will start in the fall of this year. Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that the drug test will have to be administered within the first 60 days of the semester, and students will be responsible for paying for their own drug test at an authorized facility, at a tentative fee of $34. Officials said students could find providers through the free tuition program’s website.

The board’s vice chairperson was unable to provide a reason for marijuana being included on the program’s list of banned substances. Development of the drug test plan did not include a meeting for public comment, and there was no opportunity for the board to vote on the drug test requirement.

“We tried to model after WorkForce West Virginia,” said Program consultant Kathy Butler said the program was modeled after WorkForce West Virginia, a state-run jobs program. “We need to make sure that we’re consistent because, a lot of times, we serve the same clientele, the same students, and the same population.”

In West Virginia, lawmakers passed legislation legalizing medical marijuana in 2017. The program has taken time to get off the ground, but is now considering contracts for the system’s banking and financial services.

There is current political resistance to regulating recreational use cannabis, though a bill was introduced by House Democrats in January that would legalize adult use. Many have expressed interest in cannabis legalization based on potential benefits to state revenue. Projected earnings from such an industry would not only wipe out the state’s deficit and result in a $183 million surplus.

This year, the state has seen controversy emerge over the decriminalization of marijuana. A US district judge had to get involved when citizens of the 1,400-person town of Salem got a “Sensible Marijuana Ordinance” put on their June ballot. City officials removed the issue from voting consideration, saying that the Secretary of State had implied that it was likely illegal for municipalities to legislate on such issues. But in April, Judge Thomas S. Kleeh granted a temporary injunction to get the issue back on Salem’s ballot.

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