by Ron Gregory
WASHINGTON, DC – The future of many former coalminers is symbolized in the life of a Mingo County man, a story in the August 9 Washington Post Magazine reports.
While centering on Johnsie Gooslin of Delbarton’s attempt to keep his family afloat financially, the story largely credits Kanawha County Delegate Mike Pushkin with passage of a medical marijuana bill in this year’s state legislative session.
Although Logan State Senator Richard Ojeda and his supporters have touted Ojeda as being responsible for the marijuana bill’s passage, his name is not even mentioned in the Post story.
Author Mark Lynn Ferguson pictures Gooslin as an example of someone who could benefit from marijuana legalization. He says Gooslin grew more than 70 plants in a hydroponic system of his own design. “Sometimes, he’d stay in his barn for 16 straight hours, perfecting his technique.
Gooslin had worked for 14 years at Delbarton Mine before his back gave out. During his time at the mine, he fell from a coal truck and twice from end loaders. His disks were damaged and sciatica shot pain through his knees.
The man told the author his marijuana customers were mostly older men and women, Vietnam veterans and others who had been injured. “You know, ever since I started smoking your pot, I ain’t touched a pain pill,” he quoted some as telling him.
In a state with one of the nation’s highest overdose deaths – mostly by opiods – Gooslin felt he was providing a service to clients.
Law enforcement officials disagreed.
In 2015, he received a call from a neighbor near the barn who said police were there asking questions about him. The neighbor let an officer speak with Gooslin, who was asked to return to the barn. He knew he was in serious trouble then. The officers, from accounts by Gooslin, were at least compassionate. They realized that half of the crop he produced went to his father, who suffered from various serious illnesses and diseases.
When Gooslin agreed to cooperate with the police, he opened his barn door and took them through his production process. When finished, one officer told him he had to seize his plants but would allow his equipment and supplies to remain. “One day, this might be legal,” he quoted the officer as saying.
Gooslin recounted for the reporter how he planted a single seed he had stolen from his father when he was 14. Years later, still in the mines, he began to study the cultivation process. Earlier, he had determined that the plant was not for him personally. He developed a racing heart and paranoia when he inhaled the smoke. But he was fascinated by the growing process. When he quit working at the mine about five years ago and his father gave him the barn, he started growing marijuana again.
Marijuana activists say marijuana is the answer to the opioid epidemic. Opioid addiction drops when medical marijuana is introduced they say. Pushkin, who admits to having an addiction problem at one time, also touts the financial advantages of making the use legal. The amount of money estimated to be raised by medical marijuana taxes would exceed the current state debt, he says.
Pushkin says the state cannot arrest its way out of trouble and adds, “a lot of people wo are prescribed pain killers get hooked on heroin.” That is largely because heroin becomes more available and is cheaper than marijuana, according to the delegate.
Gooslin spent just 14 hours in jail but returned to his trailer home unable to make a living. He could not risk producing any more of his beloved plants and his back injuries prohibited him from working in any type of manual labor.
Gooslin’s lawyer, Wesley Kent Varney, negotiated seriously with then-Mingo County Prosecutor Teresa Maynard. When she offered Gooslin a deal that would have kept him under home arrest, Varney did not respond. As has usually been the case, Maynard refused to comment for the story.
But with no income from marijuana, Gooslin and his wife soon faced financial debts they could not handle. His home was eventually repossessed and his outlook was bleak. On June 24, 2016, his father died from a stroke.
As Gooslin gained weight and sank deeper into depression, Maynard lost her bid for election and decided to step down early when she got a state job. The story says her successor, Jonathan “Duke” Jewell inherited a “mound of cases.” He was eager to settle when Varney suggested that Gooslin had stayed out of trouble for two years.
Each lawyer spoke briefly at the January 31 hearing and Circuit Judge Miki Thompson dismissed the charges without prejudice.
Meanwhile, Pushkin began pushing his long-held proposals to legalize medical marijuana in the 2017 legislature. The bill was eventually passed, giving patients the right to use pot derivatives such as oils and pills but prohibits growing the plant at home or smoking it. Only ten growers will be authorized in the state and there will be a $50,000 registration fee.
The passage of the bill caused new-found hope for Gooslin, who would like to find investors to help him with the financial requirements. Meanwhile, he met with Pushkin and the Post author to discuss hopes for more liberalization of the pot policy in the Mountain State.
While the delegate recognizes that there is a great deal of opposition to further expansion plans, he is hopeful some changes can be made. “We got something on the books,” Pushkin told the Post. “I think we can fix it.”
So does Gooslin, telling the Post that he wants to grow his “babies” again.
“Hook the water and electricity up,” he says, “and I’d have seeds in the cups tonight. I’m ready to go any time when the law says you can do it.”