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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Legalization? Growing and Consuming Weed in Ohio

With efforts like that of the pro-pot group ResponsibleOhio, legalization of marijuana is a hot topic in the Buckeye State. ResponsibleOhio is currently lobbying to allow adults age 21 and older to grow marijuana at home in a revised proposal to legalize the drug in Ohio for personal and medical use.

The group is pushing for retail customers to pay 5 percent tax on pot and edible pot products instead of the previously proposed rate of 15 percent.
"After extensive conversations with experts and concerned citizens across the state and nation, ResponsibleOhio has decided to include regulated and limited home growing as a part of our amendment," ResponsibleOhio Spokesperson Lydia Bolander said in a press release.

"Combined with a lower tax rate for consumers, these changes will make our communities safer by smothering the black market," she claimed.

Bolander said the revised amendment will follow Oregon's model, which allows adults over age 21 to obtain a license to grow up to four marijuana plants in a secure space.

If certified by the attorney general and deemed a single issue by the Ohio Ballot Board, petitioners must then collect more than 305,591 valid signatures by July 1 for the issue to appear on the November ballot.

(Jackie Borchardt. "ResponsibleOhio to revise marijuana legalization proposal to allow home grow." Plain Dealer Publishing. February 17, 2015)

Proponents of legalization in Ohio are pointing towards states like Colorado and Washington, where marijuana has been legalized to exhort positive data about the impact of legalized, recreational marijuana.

But, Ohio citizens must remember the short history of such data as they read about the effects of legalization on public health, public safety, traffic safety, crime, and enforcement. The whole story is yet to come, and over time, we will have a better idea about the impact of legalized, recreational marijuana on key societal indicators.

Legalization has become a highly emotional, polarized issue, and people are prone to consider only data that agrees with their stand, which often is not based on solid, unbiased, empirical data collected over a sufficient period of time.

One certainty is that legalization will not stop criminal activity involving the substance or any other substance offering a quick "high." The black market crime will continue. Jason Tama, reporter and federal executive fellow of The Brookings Institution writes ...

"Assuming state-by-state commercial legalization continues, illicit marijuana markets will persist until legal and black market prices converge and interstate arbitrage opportunities disappear. Neither of these outcomes is likely in the near-term.

"States face the very difficult task of managing consumption levels via unique regulatory regimes that promote scarcity, while simultaneously trying to price out illicit suppliers. Further, with no regulatory harmonization among states – and no credible movement to legalize federally – interstate arbitrage opportunities persist and are ripe for exploitation by illicit traffickers.

"This is not necessarily an argument against experimenting with legalization, but rather an acknowledgement of market dynamics and the agility of modern criminal networks. The good news is marijuana traffickers should face shrinking profit margins in commercially regulated states that progress toward competitive pricing....

"Let’s also acknowledge that well-established illicit economies have staying power. If marijuana legalization sufficiently erodes market share for transnational criminal networks, they will migrate toward more profitable segments of the illicit market, not just drop out, and will continue to threaten stability in the Western Hemisphere. 

"For example, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines continue to cross our borders via robust networks, and in most cases, cocaine being the exception, consumption in the United States is on the rise."

(Jason Tama. "Despite Push to Legalize, 'War on Drugs' Still Matters."
Brookings. January 29, 2015) 

Drug cartels and drug dealers are in the business of addicting clients and making profits, not caring one iota about ill effects on society. If they can't make sufficient money on marijuana, they certainly will increase their efforts to sell other, more potent and dangerous illicit substances. There is no guarantee that legalization of marijuana will decrease the terrible toll of drug addiction. That, at the time, is mere speculation.

Some Ohioans choose to look at legalization as an economic issue, not a health concern. They claim the great benefits of taxing marijuana will improve state government. NBC News reports (January 2, 2014) on the first day of legal weed sales in Colorado retailers were selling top-shelf marijuana to recreational users at prices close to $400 per ounce, not including taxes. For comparison, medical marijuana users, who’ve been able to buy weed from Colorado dispensaries since 2010, were currently paying around $250 an ounce plus taxes.

And taxes? Prices were also increased by the new 25 percent tax -- 15 percent excise and 10 percent sales -- on all marijuana purchases in the state that voters approved, along with any other local jurisdictional taxes on top of that. Marijuana sales were expected to generate nearly $70 million in tax revenue annually for Colorado.

But, by the way, the 2014 figures are in, and recreational pot reportedly took in only $44 million, a figure lower than what was first predicted. "Everyone who thinks Colorado's rollin' in the dough because of marijuana? That's not true," said state Senator Pat Steadman, a Denver Democrat and one of the legislature's main budget-writers.

So, if you are arguing for legalization and increased revenue for Ohio, consider that the legitimate industry in Colorado may already be forced to slash taxes considering high prices and that consumption is not going to inflate state coffers.

Also, long-term tax money may further decline with decreased usage. One study's authors foresee a decline in the rate of growth of consumption as the ‘wow’ factor erodes over time, and any marijuana tourism begins to decline, particularly as other states follow Colorado and Washington and legalize marijuana.

Analysts for Time magazine (Brad Tuttle reporting May 20, 2013) did some speculative research and assumed each pot enthusiast in Colorado would smoke or otherwise use 3.53 oz. (100 g) of marijuana annually, for a total of 2,268,985 oz. (about 64,320 kg) per year. (That seems like pretty low consumption to me, by the way.)

(I wonder in Ohio how much welfare money designated for serious needs -- food, shelter, childcare -- would go towards buying legalized pot?)

Even if the retail price settled to $185 per oz. -- the total comes to $653 annually average per person spent on pot. An addiction to cigarettes is far more costly than that according to health officials, so much more tax money would be generated by encouraging people to smoke.

I know I'm being horribly facetious, but if money is your big argument for legalization of marijuana, the direction is clear. Tobacco, not marijuana, is what you want to see wrapped in the papers. Smoking a pack a day at $7 a pack will leave you $2,555 lighter in the wallet per year.

Governor Kasich has proposed increasing Ohio's cigarette tax from $1.25 to $1.85 per pack, more than double the tax on cigars and other tobacco products, and imposing the other tobacco product tax on electronic cigarettes over two years. Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols confirmed the governor will propose at least the same amount -- if not more -- this year.

Last year's proposed increases would have generated an estimated $635 million in additional revenue over two years, according to the Legislative Service Commission, which would have partially offset income tax cuts. And, believe it or not, Shelly Kiser, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Ohio, said a $1-per-pack increase would cause an estimated 73,100 adult smokers to quit, prevent 65,000 youth from becoming smokers, and prevent 40,100 future deaths from smoking.

(Jacki Borchardt. "Cigarette tax increase to be proposed in Gov. John Kasich's state budget, reopening debate." Plain Dealer Publishing. January 30, 2015)

Here is the real "cost effective" question Ohio residents should consider about the legalization of marijuana: "Will the costs from health and mental wellness problems, accidents, and damage to the economic productivity far outstrip any tax obtained?"

Tama points out another problem to consider is that as more states legalize marijuana, the federal government’s continued prohibition posture will become increasingly problematic in the foreign policy arena, especially in Western Hemisphere nations with a history of supporting the fight against drugs.

How will these countries respond to the perceived softening in America? Tama believes the United States must be ready for difficult dialogue here, including acknowledging the historic costs borne by partner nations in the fight against illicit marijuana. Keeping the focus on criminal networks vice a specific commodity will be critical to sustaining productive engagement.

(Jason Tama. "Despite Push to Legalize, 'War on Drugs' Still Matters."
Brookings. January 29, 2015)

Finally, for a more opinionated approach, read what U.S. News and World Report contributor David Evans, special adviser to the Drug Free America Foundation, speculates about marijuana legalization ...

"Increased marijuana use will mean millions more damaged young people. Marijuana use can permanently impair brain development. Problem solving, concentration, motivation, and memory are negatively affected. Teens who use marijuana are more likely to engage in delinquent and dangerous behavior, and experience increased risk of schizophrenia and depression, including being three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts. Marijuana-using teens are more likely to have multiple sexual partners and engage in unsafe sex."

(David G. Evans. "Marijuana Legalization's Costs Outweigh Its Benefits."
U.S. News and World Report. October 30, 2012)
Still more negatives could become reality. Evans believes the following will result if legalization occurs:
* Marijuana use already accounts for tens of thousands of marijuana-related complaints at emergency rooms throughout the United States each year. This number would surely increase.
* Already, 13 percent of high school seniors said they drove after using marijuana while only 10 percent drove after having several drinks. Marijuana legalization means more drugged driving.
* Employees who test positive for marijuana had 55 percent more industrial accidents and 85 percent more injuries, and they had absenteeism rates 75 percent higher than those that tested negative. Legalization will increase these percentages.

The Bottom Line

Legalization in the Buckeye State is a matter that effects all citizens in Ohio. Merely considering private interests and generated profits is not enough for a proper perspective on the issue. So much false information and half-truths are being touted by people now that a real danger exists for voters to make a premature, emotional decision at the polling places.

I hear the words freedom and liberty being used to secure minds for legalization. Also proponents are quick to talk about increased revenue, decreased crime, and long historical reference to sway emotions of those still undecided. In fact, very little evidence -- sound, sufficient, and 360 degree -- exists to prove anything about what legalization will accomplish.

If legalization is all about getting high and recreational use, it must also be about paying the costs for this hedonistic pleasure and escape. Like alcohol, tobacco, gambling, prostitution, and many other artificial roads to so-called "happiness," the dues will remain, and, I suspect they will be costly. I, personally, am much more inclined to support the medicinal legalization of marijuana first before letting a weed lose in Ohio.
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