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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Scioto Commissioners About Marijuana: Facts and Opinions

ResponsibleOhio has collected enough valid signatures to put the Marijuana Legalization Amendment on the November 2015 ballot.

I am in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes allowing for limited use of cannabis because I believe some could greatly benefit from this legislation, and I believe this is a better "first step" for Ohio than the ResponsibleOhio Amendment, which would legalize marijuana, establish 10 commercial grow sites, and allow people to grow up to four plants at home. The proposed amendment would also establish medical marijuana dispensaries and marijuana retail stores.

Twenty-three states have already passed laws providing for limited legal protections from arrest for authorized patients who use cannabis with a doctor's recommendation. At this time only four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

I read that the Scioto County Commissioners have voiced opposition to the initiative. Here is the position of each commissioner:

Mike Crabtree:

“I hate it. It (the drug addiction problem) has gotten worse. We thought we had a drug problem back in the (19)70’s, we did not have a drug problem, we’ve got a drug problem now,” said Mike Crabtree, chairman of the Scioto County Commissioners. “There’s been more dollars spent nationwide to fight the drug problem and it’s gotten progressively worse.”

Crabtree then questioned what can be done to make the situation better.

“I don’t think anyone has the answer to that,” he said.

“When it comes to these marijuana testing facilities, I don’t really see a great deal of benefit in that, because they have studied that stuff for years what are they going to check now,” Crabtree said.

Doug Coleman:

Scioto County Commissioner Doug Coleman also questioned the purpose of a marijuana testing facility.

“I think they should build more penitentiaries and lock them all up,” Coleman said. “They may try to rehabilitate them, but it’s not working that well.”

Bryan Davis:

“My position is very clear and has been from day one. I keep hearing this statement no one has died from smoking marijuana. I can argue that real simple, go find a family here in Scioto County whose son, daughter, husband or wife was the victim of a drugged-driving accident and ask them how they feel about it,” said Scioto Commissioner Bryan Davis. “Look at the statistics coming out of the states that have legalized it (marijuana). There’s your argument, drug-driving deaths have now exceeded drunk driving deaths and we’re basically picking our poison here.”

(Wayne Allen. "Marijuana amendment on ballot." Portsmouth Daily Times. August 17, 2015.)

While I respect the opinion and the voiced opposition of the Scioto County Commissioners, I must question their reactions.

1. While it is true Scioto County has been devastated by both a prescription opioid and heroin epidemic, these are the substances which should be addressed as pertinent to the "drug problem," not marijuana.

2. A significant number of drug abuse deterrents are, indeed, improving. The Scioto County Drug Action Team has fought long and hard to "better" the so-called "drug problem" here. Indeed, many dedicated people are busy working on "answers" to bettering the situation. Great strides have already been made against drug abuse and continued efforts show great promise. Scioto County is a model of activism for the nation -- pro-action and reaction. This has been documented in many major publications for years now. Strong, effective efforts continue.

3. "Building penitentiaries" and "locking them all up" in reference to marijuana offenders represent extremely unworkable and highly ineffective solutions to solving Scioto County drug woes. Are we going to jail all marijuana users? Ohio has already decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Violations are considered minor misdemeanors, which incur a $150 fine but no jail time, and do not become part of the defendant’s criminal record.

Imagine the cost to taxpayers of jailing all offenders. In Ohio, 80 percent of those who enter prison don't have a high school diploma or GED. With cuts to education and treatment programs, U.S. prisons have become little more than warehouses. Then, the inmates exit. More than 95 percent of Ohio's 50,000 prisoners will return to their communities.

Jeff Gerritt of the The Toledo Blade reports ...

"Too often it’s a revolving door. Nearly half of the inmates who leave U.S. prisons will return — at an annual cost to taxpayers of roughly $30,000 each. With a strong network of re-entry coalitions, Ohio does better. But even here, nearly 30 percent of the more than 20,000 people a year who leave state prisons come back within four years."

(Jeff Gerritt. "Ohio colleges should go to prison." The Toledo Blade. August 16, 2015.)

We need treatment alternatives to jail time, with access to adequate drug rehabs as sentencing. We can punish people for using drugs, but that's not the solution for treating the mental illness associated with the offenses. There is a crushing need for more access to critical rehabilitation programs, some of which serve as pathways to early release.

In terms of public investments in substance use disorder activities, federal decision-makers in 2011 budgeted $7.6 billion for domestic law enforcement, but only $1.7 billion for prevention programs and $3.9 billion for treatment services.

Yet, in a study published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), researchers found that California’s Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, which diverts nonviolent drug offenders from the correctional system and into treatment, saved a little more than $2,300 per offender over a 30-month post-conviction period.

In fact, researchers estimated more than $97 million in savings for the 42,000 offenders affected during the first year of the law’s implementation. And even though the law resulted in spending more on treatment, health care services and community service supervision, bypassing incarceration still yielded overall savings, said study co-author M. Douglas Anglin, founding director of the UCLA Drug Abuse Research Center and associate director of the university’s Integrated Substance Abuse Programs.

(Kim Krisberg. "Study: Sending nonviolent drug offenders to treatment instead of prison saves money." The Pump Handle. May 24, 2013.)

Rehabilitation in prison? It's not "working that well"? If it's not, then major reform is needed.

First of all, are we to discontinue successful drug courts that already exist? I think not. Expansion could help.

Second, most prisons offer far too little rehabilitation to drug addicts. It is evident more attention to this problem offers good results.

A study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that every dollar spent on drug treatment in the community yields over $18 in cost savings related to crime. In comparison, prisons only yield $0.37 in public safety benefit per dollar spent. According to, "Releasing people to supervision and making treatment accessible is an effective way of reducing problematic drug use, reducing crime associated with drug use, and reducing the number of people in prison."

 ("How to safely reduce prison populations and support people returning to their communities." Justice Policy Institute. June 2010)

In 2010, the Council of State Governments Justice Center criticized Ohio for sending too many low-risk offenders to prison for brief periods of time. Ohio’s corrections system now holds about ten thousand more prisoners than it was designed for. To improve this, in 2011, Governor John Kasich signed a bill that could allow thousands to leave prison early to attend drug rehabs. 

Thus, Ohio became one of the most recent states to acknowledge that, for some convicted of drug crimes, drug rehab is a far smarter alternative than prison. Proponents of the bill suggested that the reduced sentences for nonviolent felons could save Ohio taxpayers over $ 10 million per year in costs directly associated with incarceration.

("Ohio Sees Drug Rehab as Safe Alternative to Prison." 2015)

4. While drugged-driving and "drugged-driving deaths" are totally unacceptable, the facts speak clearly that alcohol, not marijuana, is the deadliest substance for those behind the wheel.

According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 9.9 million people aged 12 or older (or 3.8 percent of teens and adults) reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs during the year prior to being surveyed. This was lower than the rate in 2012 (3.9 percent). By comparison, in 2013, an estimated 28.7 million people (10.9 percent) reported driving under the influence of alcohol at least once in the past year (SAMHSA, 2014).

In 2014, 32 percent of Ohio car-crash deaths were alcohol-related. 341 deaths were blamed on drunken drivers that year in Ohio, according to a federal report. (The State Highway Patrol reported 431 deaths, however.)

I refute this statement: "There’s your argument, drug-driving deaths have now exceeded drunk driving deaths." I believe the confusion is related to this reality:

"Drug overdoses account for more deaths than motor vehicles in 29 states and the District of Columbia."

This represents a monumental shift that reflects gains in road safety amid the troubling rise in prescription drug abuse. Deaths from motor vehicular accidents had consistently remained the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S. until fairly recently.

A report from the Trust for America’s Health shows the incredible spike of prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin over the last decade has coincided with a dramatic increase in the number of drug-related fatalities. In 2000, only five states — Arizona, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah — plus the District of Columbia, suffered more than 10 deaths per 100,000 residents due to drug overdoses. By 2010, 38 states and D.C. reached that mark.

(Reid Wilson. "Drug overdoses kill more people than auto accidents in 29 states."
The Washington Post.

The study found that 12.2% of drivers killed by car crashes in six states tested positive for cannabinol, a marijuana metabolite, in 2010, up from 4.2% in 1999.

Jacob Sullum, senior editor at Reason magazine, believes there are several problems with reading the trend described by this study as evidence that legalizing medical marijuana causes an increase in fatal car crashes:

1. The fact that cannabinol was detected in a driver’s blood does not mean he was under the influence at the time of the crash, let alone that marijuana caused the crash. “It is possible for a driver to test positive for cannabinol in the blood up to 1 week after use,” the researchers note. “Thus, the prevalence of nonalcohol drugs reported in this study should be interpreted as an indicator of drug use, not necessarily a measurement of drug impairment.”

2. Only three of the six states included in the study (which were chosen because they routinely do drug testing on drivers killed in crashes) have medical marijuana laws: California, Hawaii, and Rhode Island.

3. Traffic fatalities fell by more than 20% nationwide during the study period, even as “medical marijuana sales expanded.” Between enactment of its medical marijuana law in 1996 and 2010, California saw a 31% drop in traffic fatalities. The number of traffic fatalities also fell in Hawaii and Rhode Island after they legalized medical marijuana—by 14% and 21%, respectively.

4. A study published last year by the Journal of Law & Economics found that adoption of medical marijuana laws is associated with a decline in traffic fatalities, possibly because people in those states are substituting marijuana for alcohol, which has a more dramatic impact on driving ability. Briggs mentions that study in the 17th paragraph of his article.

This all caused Sullum to say, "If “drugged driving” means operating a motor vehicle with any detectable amount of cannabinol in your blood, “drugged driving” inevitably will rise after legalization as consumption rises. But having cannabinol in your blood is not the same as being intoxicated. And even if the share or absolute number of traffic fatalities caused by marijuana-related impairment rises, the total number of fatal accidents could still drop thanks to substitution effects."

(Jacob Sullum. "If Medical Marijuana Laws Cause A 'Surge in Drugged Driving Deaths,'
Why Are Fatalities Falling?" Forbes. February 17, 2014)

My Stand

I am against drug abuse of any kind. I am fervently against deadly opiate abuse. And, I am sick of the health epidemic that threatens innocent lives in our county. However, I am also a strong proponent of education and using appropriate facts when informing the public about any topic. Biased politics and misinformation only weaken the populace as both negatively influence individuals who do not conduct their own necessary research.

With the utmost respect, I think the commissioners need to examine the Marijuana Legalization Amendment and any other legalization effort in Ohio as to their potential effects. It behooves them as elected officials to prepare for interviews armed with the best, most-accurate information. I offer this in hopes that we all may learn.

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