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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Ohio has long been a battleground in the American political landscape, and Tuesday, the Buckeye State will play host to one of the most pressing battles in American public policy: Whether or not to reform marijuana laws.
On Election Day, Nov. 3, Ohioans will vote on State Issue 3, which would amend the state’s constitution to allow citizens 21 and older to use up to one ounce of marijuana recreationally, as well as allowing medical marijuana for those who get a prescription from a doctor.
The amendment would ban anyone under the influence of marijuana from operating a vehicle, aircraft, train or motorboat. It would also allow for ten state-regulated growing sites and let state residents who are at least 21 grow and possess up to four plants and eight ounces of marijuana.
Only Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Ohio would be the first state to legalize medical and recreational marijuana all at once.
“I can speak for the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association…I know the Attorney General has this stance and every single police chief that I know, and person involved in law enforcement, if this passes for the recreational marijuana, it’s just going to be a huge mistake,” Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene said.
Greene stated that in Colorado, where pot has been legal since Jan. 1, 2014, fatal crashes involving marijuana are up 92%, and incidents of driving under the influence involving marijuana in the state have increased around 80%.
Greene said that school expulsions and suspensions are up. One study found that school drug incidents had increased, while another found that school expulsions dropped after the state legalized pot.
A recent commercial by pro-marijuana legalization group Responsible Ohio states that legalizing marijuana will allow police to focus on other crimes. Greene countered that fewer than 1% of all people in Ohio’s prison system are there because of marijuana-related charges.
Greene said that one of his main concerns was that legalization would allow more marijuana to get into the hands of underage users, as well as making the state’s heroin epidemic harder to fight.
“To have this pass recreationally, it’ll be a springboard for many more people to develop into more addictive habits,” Greene said. “People…will be experimenting with marijuana that would have never tried it before…we think that that’s going to act as a gateway to more serious, more addictive drugs.”
And there is indeed some evidence that marijuana is not good for youngsters. Ohio ACLU Executive Director Chris Link said that the key question, however, is whether or not making weed illegal is the best way to prevent its abuse.
“We believe that the criminalization of marijuana and the so-called war on drugs has been really a terrible policy direction,” Link said. “Legalization, regulation and control of marijuana would be far superior than the current control by illegal drug interests that we have now.”
Link said that lifting marijuana bans would allow for marijuana research so that doctors and scientists could learn about the drug’s benefits and risks.
Legalizing marijuana could improve relations between police and citizens in urban areas, Link said, because people in those areas would have one less reason to fear being hassled by police. Often, police-citizen relations in urban areas are more strained due to lack of resources, and legalizing marijuana would help ease that strain, according to Link.
“In the suburbs children are taught that the police are the people you run to. In the city, they are the people you run away from,” Link said in an email.
Link also said that taking sales of marijuana to people over 21 would allow police to focus their efforts on people who put marijuana into the hands of kids, which she said would address the concern held by Sheriff Greene, among others, about more kids smoking marijuana.
“The state of Ohio and every other state carefully regulates the sale and distribution of alcohol,” Link said. “Marijuana is a very similar product…we’re not selling zucchini off the roadside stand. This is a product that needs to have careful regulation and inspection.”
Link said she believes it is anybody’s guess as to whether legalizing marijuana would lead to more traffic accidents. Link also noted that there is currently no good test to quickly show officers whether or not a driver is impaired by marijuana, as a breath test would do with alcohol, but she believed that that need would be quickly filled.
Legalizing marijuana might not lead to more smoking of marijuana, Link claimed, and said that there is no science showing that marijuana is a gateway drug.
Some people, like Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, have criticized the law’s granting of ten growing licenses, saying that it would create a monopoly. That is the impetus behind State Issue 2, which would make such an arrangement illegal.
Still others, even some who are in favor of legalizing marijuana, are concerned about Issue 3, saying that it would put too much pot on the market, making the drug cheap and allowing heavy pot users to abuse the drug, as they seem to do in Colorado.
Link countered that limiting the number of growers would allow for better regulation of the industry, avoiding problems of marijuana being tainted by mildew and insects. Link also believes that concerns about the price dropping too low are unfounded.
“Remember there are taxes to be paid. The law has a lot of regulatory costs to it such as security, and testing for purity,” Link said in an email. “It has to be packaged appropriately. And these companies want to make profit, right?”
It is also not clear what would happen if both Issue 3, allowing a limited number of marijuana growers, and Issue 2, blocking such a setup, pass. The outcome would likely be decided in court, and Ohio State Senator Joe Schiavoni said that the issue that gets more votes in its favor might win out, based on article two, section 1b of the Ohio Constitution.
Schiavoni and Link also said that if Issue 3 passes, it will not go into effect immediately, as state regulators would need time to work out the specifics of the plan.
To find your polling place, visit the Ohio Secretary of State’s website.
To see a complete list of what will be on your ballot, visit the links below: