House candidate Fershee: Opioids are a health care crisis

WHEELING — West Virginia congressional candidate Kendra Fershee — a lawyer and law school professor — said she believes the federal government should get out of the way when it comes to regulating marijuana.

The West Virginia Legislature in 2017 approved legislation setting policy for medical marijuana use in the state, although those laws won’t become effective until July 2019.

“Two studies have come showing that states that have legalized medical marijuana have fewer addiction issues,” said Fershee. “The federal government is in the way of states that want to control their own cannabis destiny, and I think the feds need to stop obstructing this because it is a safe pain management.

“It’s also a revenue driver,” she said. “We need new sources of revenue the state can tax. We can’t just keep doing things the way we’ve always been doing them.”

Fershee, a Democrat from Morgantown, is seeking the party’s nomination for West Virginia’s 1st District congressional seat in the May 8 primary election. The seat is held by Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va.

Fershee said she sees West Virginia’s opioid crisis not as a criminal problem, but as “a health care crisis” facing the state.

“We have tried to deal with the drug addiction problem as a law enforcement problem in the past, and that has not solved any of our issues,” she said. “This particular problem started with illegal prescription drugs, so law enforcement is not the best way to solve the problem.

“And yet, there is a law enforcement component,” said Fershee. “We have dealers and distributors … and the medical industry that have overprescribed and dumped millions of pills into tiny, tiny towns of 223 people.”

She suggests law enforcement not focus on the end-user, but on the distribution chain.

Fershee also said she believes a key part of fighting opioid addiction is for West Virginia to focus on rebuilding its communities. There is a lack of engagement in many small areas, and family structure is being broken as members have had to leave to find jobs elsewhere, she said.

“In order for people to get healthy and stay healthy, they need communities they can go back to,” said Fershee. “People are not living a life they think is fulfilling enough, and they’re looking for pain relief.

“If people know they can go back to a place where they can occupy themselves, they are less likely to relapse,” she said.

Fershee senses people are unhappy with the status quo in West Virginia. She said she believes this will give her an edge in the upcoming election over Democrat opponents Ralph Baxter and Tom Payne.

“I can win because I am different from the representation people are unhappy with,” she said. “I am more like the voters.

“The reason I got into the race — I got the feeling people do not think their representatives look or act like them. They aren’t working parents, or people with full-time jobs.”

Fershee, 44, and her husband, Joshua, have two children in public schools. She describes herself as “not independently wealthy.”

Fershee is employed as an associate dean at the West Virginia University College of Law, and serves as editor-in-chief of Family Law Quarterly — a scholarly journal published by the American Bar Association.

“I juggle a lot of responsibilities every day,” she said.

“To be honest, I was already living a life too big for one person. Then, I decided to run for Congress — and I think that’s relatable to a lot of people.”