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After reading about the plight of West Virginia in regard to counties being unable to pay their regional jail bills and the Legislature faced with trying to help fix that problem, as well as many others, I began to wonder just how places like Logan County — with its dwindling population — could encounter such a dilemma.

Realizing, of course, that about 90 percent of the inmate population, at least in Logan County, is drug-related, I began to think about how it was that many years ago when the population was three times what Logan is today and there were 20 times more places that dispensed alcohol legally and other places that did so illegally, that the former jails operated so efficiently — or did they?

Before the current Logan courthouse was constructed, the jail was located next to what is now the Logan post office on Hudgins Street. The so-called jail, which was formerly a two-story house, must have held many people because old newspaper headlines indicate police raids were regular with arrests being as many as 100 people on some weekends. I can only imagine what temporary living quarters that place might have offered.

When Logan’s current courthouse was dedicated November 20, 1965, by Circuit Judge C.C. Chambers, there were nine cell blocks and dormitories on the fourth floor, including adult male and female cell blocks, juvenile male and female dormitories, infirmary and first aid dormitories, with a 100-prisoner maximum capacity. There was a modern kitchen for adequate preparation and serving of food. In addition, there was what was a called a “creech” cell for violent offenders.

As of last Wednesday, a check with the regional jail at Holden revealed there was then a total of 527 inmates and only 74 of those were incarcerated on Logan County charges. Considering that the regional jail at Holden serves Logan, Mingo, Boone and McDowell counties, the Logan figure is actually not that bad. However, if you do the math on that number (74), we’re talking about $3,700 daily and around $111,000 costs per month to the Logan County Commission. This expense comes despite efforts being made not to keep people incarcerated for petty crimes.

Since it appears crime, particularly drug-related lawbreaking, is not going to cease anytime soon, and with the ever-dwindling coal severance revenue situation, there needs to be another tax base for Logan County — a county which could be in dire financial straits come the new fiscal year in July.

Dreams of large companies settling in Logan County and creating hundreds of jobs is a dream that should have been dreamt many years ago and maybe we could have avoided today what might become a financial nightmare.

Legalizing marijuana as a tax source is likely years away in West Virginia, and hemp growing — although finally legalized a few years ago in the Mountain State — is not happening in Logan County despite hemp products being legally sold and dispensed throughout the area in many forms. In 2019 alone, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture passed out 158 licenses for growing or processing hemp and the number of applicants has since increased monthly. Regardless, no licenses have been issued in Logan County.

Now, I’m not advocating in any way for or against the growing of hemp in such places as Wylo — the coal-stripped land located on Buffalo Creek — or any other area, but it’s not like there’s a Toyota or Ford manufacturing plant going in on the strip mine sites.

Just because long before European settlers arrived in North America hemp was already being cultivated by Native Americans, and just because it is one of the oldest plants cultivated in human history, I realize that it is never growing to replace coal as a local revenue, despite a growing variety of uses in everything from soap to CBD oil. The fact is the growing of hemp only became legal in 2018; there being a vast difference in it and marijuana.

It’s interesting to note that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew cannabis on their plantations and that Benjamin Franklin started one of America’s first paper mills with hemp. Some historians also even believe the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. Nevertheless, something tells me that old George, Thomas and Benjamin — whose images Americans have on paper currency in their honor — likely grew the “real” stuff to go along with Washington’s rum, Jefferson’s wine, and Franklin’s everything.

All joking aside (if in fact, I am), hemp use in history for such things as maps, books, shoes, sails, tents, clothing, etc., has been well noted. For the record, the hemp-derived CBD market is now on track to reach the $22 billion mark by 2022. In 2016, America’s hemp market was valued at more than $688 million. One might say the industry is “growing like a weed.”

Now, back to good ol’ ultra-conservative Logan County and its jail bill that is nearing the $2 million mark. I’m hearing that the hemp-growing market, due to the increased activities in Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky, has become saturated. So, maybe hemp growing may be out of the question for Wylo and other places. I guess that’s something the powers that be can check into.

I’ve also heard the rumor that hog farms may be a choice for economic development in Logan County. Although I enjoy “hamming” it up as well as the next person, and I even liked Arnold on the “Green Acres” television show, I think maybe our local history could provide a less messy alternative. Here’s why.

The first frontiersmen who crossed over into rugged Appalachia to settle in the narrow valleys of southern West Virginia did not have any real source of income and nowhere to spend any currency they may have had. Nevertheless, when it was realized that ginseng was abundant throughout the region and that it was a valuable commodity, especially to China, the so-called magical plant that was purchased and exported by American companies became a good source of income for our mountain people. And, unlike the making and selling of liquor, it was even legal.

During the past 20 years In one county alone in Wisconsin, nearly 200 ginseng farmers using about 1,500 acres produced from 500,000 to 600,000 pounds of ginseng annually, bringing in revenue of 15 million U.S. dollars — not bad at all for a state known mostly for its beer and ice cream.

Therefore, I did some checking with some buddies who still like to “seng” when ginseng season rolls around each September. You might be surprised to know that a pound of ginseng last year was selling for around $750 to certain local dealers, who themselves were also making a sizable legal profit.

Realizing that 80% of West Virginia is timberland and that most of the state is owned by outside land interests, which is certainly true in Logan County, why not think out of the box, so to speak? Here’s something to ponder:

What if abandoned mine properties, such as strip-mined lands, could be given to the county, perhaps as tax write-offs? Perhaps the county could then implement some actions that might benefit residents in more ways than one. The following thoughts could be considered a wonderful, but delusional scenario:

Like it or not, one of these days growing marijuana will be legal in West Virgina. Therefore, when that day comes — just like the coal mining industry — it will be the out-of-state corporations that will be in control, because of land ownership. However, if the county owned its own land, then it could potentially benefit — not even having to pay real estate taxes — while at the same time utilizing inmates from the jail to do some of the labor. Magistrates could also sentence individuals to that type of supervised probation in lieu of jail and/or fines on various charges, especially littering.

Pending the legalization of marijuana in West Virginia, which could take many years, those same lands could be in the meantime utilized for other matters, such as growing ginseng, or even hops. Hops? Yes, hops, a key ingredient in the beer making process; beer having been brewed in one fashion or another even before the Egyptians did it. In fact, there are some historians who speculate that ancient agriculture became popular because of the grain that was needed to make beer.

So, there you are, Logan County — the historic remedies to the ever-increasing jail bill: hemp, marijuana, ginseng and hops; all of which are products of Mother Nature.

Understandably, there is always the possibility of creating a large pig farm somewhere in the county. Should that occur, perhaps we could see fit to feed the oinkers some pot, ginseng, and a few hop-infused beers.

I can see the headlines now — “New Logan County Industry Creates Happy Bacon; Makes Millions.”

I guess that would be one way to solve the jail bill problem.

Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.