A bipartisan group of candidates running for city council in Charleston say the city needs to tackle the region’s drug crisis by decriminalizing cannabis and supporting harm-reduction programs.
Joe Solomon, a community organizer and Democratic Charleston City Council candidate, said addressing the region’s substance-use issues will help keep young people safe and out of jail. He added the effort to put community needs over politics is the only way residents will keep their communities safe.
“We got here, we became the nation’s overdose capital, because we criminalized harm reduction and criminalized care,” Solomon contended.
Solomon added Charleston’s city budget includes zero funding for drug treatment.
A severe HIV outbreak in Kanawha County last year prompted a response from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency recommended expanding and improving access to clean syringes, testing, and substance-use treatment to halt the spread of disease. In 2018, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department temporarily shut down its needle exchange program, and more recent state laws have imposed tighter restrictions on harm reduction.
Gail Michelson, a lawyer and independent Charleston City Council candidate, said she believes decriminalizing cannabis will ultimately save the city and the state money.
“It’s very expensive to send people to jail, and it’s very expensive to supervise them,” Michelson pointed out. “Sometimes those solutions cause more problems than they help.”
Frank Harrison Annie, a Republican Charleston City Council candidate, said lack of broadband access can cut off residents from telehealth, mental-health support and job opportunities, all of which affect substance use and public health.
“Infrastructure affects public health,” Annie emphasized. “If you don’t have housing, you don’t have ready internet, you don’t have all of these services to be a member of the modern age, you’re going to be left behind.”
The number of Mountain State residents with a high-speed home internet connection has dropped slightly to around 82%, according to a Federal Communications Commission report released last year.