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Monday, March 16, 2015

Marijuana Legalization In Ohio -- Proposal Goes To Ballot Board

What is the latest on the controversial legalization of marijuana legislation in Ohio? Rumors and half-truths have been circulating concerning what legalization in the Buckeye State would entail. Since this issue is so hotly debated, I hope this post will present the issue in fairness and in truth. This is the actual state of affairs, at least as close as I can understand.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has given the go-ahead to the ResponsibleOhio campaign to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use, putting it a step closer to a statewide vote. DeWine, who opposes legalizing marijuana, certified that the petition summary is a “fair and truthful” statement of the actual ballot language.

As early as this February DeWine had suggested Ohio voters educate themselves about the impacts of legalizing marijuana in places like Colorado and Washington state, which began legal recreational sales last year.

"I think it's pretty much a horror story, frankly," DeWine said.

ResponsibleOhio now must now accomplish two more things to put the language on the November ballot as a constitutional amendment:

1.  The Ohio Ballot Board has 10 days to determine if the ballot language covers a single issue. The five-member Ohio Ballot Board, chaired by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, determines whether or not the amendment should remain one issue or be split. If the Ballot Board splits the proposed initiative, ResponsibleOhio will have to start the process over said Husted spokesman John Eck.

2. Then, the campaign must collect 305,591 valid signatures from registered Ohio voters by July 1.

What would this proposal establish? It calls for the following:

* 10 legal growing locations that are at least 1,000 feet from schools, day care centers, churches or libraries;

* A seven-member Marijuana Control Commission to regulate growing, sales, distribution, licensing and taxing of marijuana products;

* 5 marijuana testing facilities to check potency and safety;

* Not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensaries for patients with debilitating medical conditions who could buy pot at wholesale prices; and

* A 5 percent flat tax on retail pot sales with 85 percent of the tax revenue going to local governments for services.

The plan would also allow adults 21 and older to grow up to four plants in indoor areas inaccessible to minors. This would require a license, and home grown pot could be shared but not sold.

(Laura A. Bischoff. "Effort to legalize marijuana in Ohio step closer to ballot."
Dayton Daily News. March 13, 2015)

Tom Troy, The Blade reporter, says the amendment gives the seven-member Marijuana Control Commission power to award additional growing licenses if the market demands. If an initial grower shuts down or is closed by the commission, it can license a new location not listed in the amendment.

(Tom Troy. "DeWine OKs marijuana ballot language." The Blade. Toledo. March 14, 2015)

Jacob Wagner, vice president of Ohioans to End Prohibition, said many pro-marijuana advocates view ResponsibleOhio with suspicion.

“They really don’t have much support in the cannabis community,” Wagner said.

Wagner’s group is still in the process of drafting language that would legalize marijuana, but would open up production to a wider base than the 10 investors who would be allowed to grow the plant under ResponsibleOhio’s proposal.

Brad Dicken, reporter for The Medina-Gazette, reported, "Even if ResponsibleOhio is successful in November -- something Wagner believes the political landscape of an off-year election will make difficult -- he said he intends to craft his ballot language in such a way that it would scrap much of what ResponsibleOhio has put forward. He said Ohioans to End Prohibition are shooting to get their amendment on the 2016 ballot."

(Brad Dicken. "State approves language for ResponsibleOhio marijuana amendment."
The Medina-Gazette. March 14, 2015)

To add to support for her group's resolution, ResponsibleOhio Spokesperson Lydia Bolander told The Blade that marijuana prohibition has failed.

She said black Ohio residents are far more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than white Ohioans, and medical patients are denied access to treatments that could ease their suffering. Ms. Bolander said Ohio spends about $120 million a year to enforce “bad laws.”

In response to Bolander, Columbus-area attorney Jonathan Allison, who represents the Drug Free Action Alliance, blasted ResponsibleOhio in a written statement labeled the group a “pot cartel.”

Allison explained ...

“This starts and ends with constitutionally protected cartel monopolies owning the marijuana market... What they want to put in our state constitution is centered on a singular theme and desire, and it is, purely and simply, greed. When they feign interest in home growers or the sick, ask the cartel investors if their hearts would be in this without a constitutionally guaranteed return on investment.

"And don’t be distracted by their shiny, new pot tax revenue estimates. The casino monopolies promised voters $600 million in annual taxes and produced less than half that amount in 2014 ($272 million). Ohioans are smart enough to know the check isn’t going to be in the mail.”

(Tom Troy. "DeWine OKs marijuana ballot language." The Blade. Toledo. March 14, 2015)

Speaking of the promises of tax revenues, Wayne Allen of the Portsmouth Daily Times reported ResponsibleOhio Spokesperson Lydia Bolander has released a report with these estimates:

"The legal marijuana industry would produce $554 million in new annual tax revenue for Ohio once the market stabilizes in 2020. County and local governments would receive $476 million, with the remaining $78 million going toward programs such as addiction prevention services, compassionate care for medical patients, regulation enforcement, and research on marijuana."

ResponsibleOhio is compiling a similar report for each county in Ohio, the group released Scioto County figures exclusively to the Daily Times.

The report estimated Scioto County would receive $1.277,074 annually. Municipalities in Scioto County would receive $1,924,923. In total $3,201,997 would come to Scioto County.

Bolander said the figures are only projections when the marijuana market would stabilize in 2020.

“Local governments have seen their funding cut drastically in recent years, resulting in job losses for first responders and cutbacks to vital public services,” Bolander said. “With more than $550 million in new revenue, marijuana legalization will revitalize our communities and create tens of thousands of new jobs for Ohioans.”

(Wayne Allen. "Ballot initiative could bring millions."
Portsmouth Daily Times. March 15, 2015)

My View

The totality of any harm, good, or indifference toward legalization in Ohio seems nearly impossible to predict, especially when advocates for legislation have personal agendas of bias. Nevertheless, a responsible citizen who votes in November must ultimately consider that we are currently in the throes of a heroin catastrophe responsible for an unprecedented epidemic of overdose deaths. The problem demands our immediate attention.

The impact of opiates is unfathomable to me -- not in the respect that those once addicted to prescription opioids have turned to heroin but in the respect that new users continue to turn to heroin to get high. The substance is pure evil.

I do understand the position of those favoring medical marijuana, and I also acknowledge that alcohol, a legal substance, can be a gateway to abuse of harder substances. So, I am not without sympathy for those who use these arguments to promote legalization. Yet, I know that recreationally getting drunk or getting high is drug abuse. A person who continually does so develops a vice that detracts from society, and that individual presents a risk to others.

The time-worn argument for freedom and individual liberty used by pot proponents  must be weighed against inevitable greed and wrongdoing. Drunk and high -- conditions of those under the influence of substances that influence their best behavior -- are synonymous. Any gain associated with a vice has its personal cost. It is a cost we pass on to future generations. The cost of one life lost has no financial or social equivalent.

It is my experience that government does not necessary put the health of citizens as its major concern. And, yes, you and I -- at least in democratic theory -- are "the government." As Attorney General DeWine said, legalization will be decided by the will of the people.

Still, I ask you, "How do amendments and constitutional concerns mainly come before our state government?" We must consider the motivation of those pushing issues. I would not listen to alcoholics promoting getting drunk nor would I listen to consumers of illegal substances promoting getting high.

Whatever happens in November, we are all bound to live with the consequences, no matter how good or how bad they are. Make your decision in sobriety, please.
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