It’s official: You will get to decide this November whether to legalize marijuana in Ohio.
Fervor on both sides of the issue is intense as ResponsibleOhio, the group behind state Issue 3, seeks support to amend the Ohio Constitution to make pot for medical and personal use perfectly lawful for people ages 21 and older.
If embraced at the polls, the Columbus-based PAC would open five testing and research facilities near colleges and universities across the state as well as 10 wholesale growing sites.
Support for marijuana legalization “is rapidly outpacing opposition,” the nonpartisan fact tank Pew Research reported earlier this year.
Its public opinion polls found 53 percent of Americans favor decriminalizing pot — a drastic change since 1969, when Gallup found just 12 percent supported legalization.
Among Millennials, support is at 63 percent. The numbers show age is a huge factor in opinions on legalization, with only 29 percent of the Silent Generation (ages 70 to 87) in favor.
Political alignment also comes into play.
Among Democrats, 59 percent are pro-legalization compared to just 39 percent of Republicans.
Those who say pot should remain illegal say it is harmful to both society and individuals (43 percent), is addictive (30 percent), needs to be policed (19 percent), is a gateway drug (11 percent), and is bad for young people (eight percent), according to Pew.
A bare majority of Ohio voters backs legal recreational cannabis but 84 percent in the state support allowing medical marijuana, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll.
Those numbers were released in April as part of polling in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. All are swing states.
John Pardee of Oberlin is a member of the Ohio Rights Group board. The nonprofit tried for three years to get a pot legalization measure on the ballot.
While ORG has yet to take a public stance on Issue 3, Pardee said he is personally a fan.
At one time an opponent of the ResponsibleOhio effort, his conversion came from talking to a friend with multiple sclerosis.
“She has suffered mightily. People who want recreational cannabis in Ohio already have it. Those who need medical cannabis are the ones hurt most by prohibition,” he said.
Pardee’s father died in December 2013 of complications related to Parkinson’s disease. When offered treatment with low-grade cannabis, his father refused because he’d heard all his life how dangerous marijuana is, Pardee said.
His son has also legally grown medical-grade strains in California for therapeutic use related to reconstructive pelvic surgery.
Those personal connections have convinced Pardee the benefits of legalization outweigh the drawbacks.
“Knowing how tough this process is and that the opportunity is here in 2015, I couldn’t in good conscience sit here and tell people to vote no on Issue 3 just because there’s a part of the business model that some people find objectionable,” he said.
Opposition to Issue 3
There is significant and organized push-back against legalization of marijuana.
The Ohio School Boards Association, Buckeye Association of School Administrators, and Ohio Association of School Business Officials announced a formal stance Aug. 24 against any such amendment.
The “wide-open nature” of the proposed amendment “threatens the health and safety of young people and will have a negative impact on student achievement,” the groups said in a joint release.
“As a proposed constitutional amendment, Issue 3 poses a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ choice to Ohioans,” said OSBA executive director Richard Lewis. “This sends the wrong message to young people and poses and actual danger, as has been reported in other states that have legalized marijuana.”
The 1,100 retail marijuana stores allowed under ResponsibleOhio’s proposal gave BASA executive director Kirk Hamilton cause for concern.
“With more marijuana stores than McDonald’s in the state, our children could easily be exposed to marijuana just walking to school,” he said. “Allowing adults 21 and over to possess the equivalent of more than 500 marijuana joints is hardly a ‘limit.’ Some of this marijuana will fall into the hands of our young people.”
A loophole in the amendment would allow pot sellers to open right next to any school, day care center, library, or playground built after Jan. 1, 2015, said OASBO executive director David Varda.
Ohio Secretary of State John Husted also took umbrage with the proposal, saying it would create a monopoly.
“There is no better way to describe state Issue 3 than to say it is a monopoly that grants exclusive rights to a certain group of people — rights that would no be afforded to every other Ohioan,” he said in an Aug. 28 statement. “News publications throughout Ohio have rightly come to the conclusion that Issue 3 would allow a small group of wealthy investors to buy a place in the Ohio Constitution and reserve themselves exclusive rights as the only suppliers of marijuana in Ohio.”
ResponsibleOhio spokeswoman Faith Oltman expects a surge of buyers to visit Ohio from surrounding states should Issue 3 pass.
While the closest state to allow pot sales for personal use is Colorado, the constitutional amendment would make Ohio the 24th state in the Union to legalize marijuana for medical use.
Washington, Oregon, and Alaska are the only others where it can be used recreationally.
“This is the first time both (kinds of uses) have been on the ballot as one piece,” Oltman said. “All of the other states did medical first.”
Abuse of marijuana was found to be far more rampant in states where it is only allowed by prescription, according to a ResponsibleOhio study, she said.
To regulate use and update laws about abuse, Issue 3 would:
• Allow marijuana use only by people ages 21 and older.
• Require state licenses to grow up to four flowering marijuana plants at home.
• Allow possession of only one ounce of marijuana at a time.
• Prohibit the sale of home-grown marijuana by residents.
• “You can’t use it in a public place,” Oltman said. “You have to be in a private place.”
She said marijuana is already available for people to get but from drug dealers who are making a lot of money, don’t care about the community, how much they sell, who they sell to, and don’t pay taxes.
“If we don’t legalize marijuana we’re still going to be forfeiting to the drug dealers,” Oltman said.
Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611, email@example.com, or @ValUrbanik on Twitter. Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @EditorHawk on Twitter. Both are Civitas Media reporters in Lorain County.