Twenty states have made the move to legalize medicinal marijuana, and Ohio is considering whether it will follow suit.
In an interview with The Marietta Times, Ohio resident Nathan Gundlach said marijuana prohibition has caused more problems than it has solved, leading to a black market economy, excessive incarceration and infringements on individual liberties.
“To me, the important issue is that we have the right to choose what we put in our bodies,” Gundlach said.
Legalization may not eliminate the drug’s underground economy, as some marijuana proponents argue. High prices may encourage the continuance of the pot sales on the black market despite legitimization, said Major Brian Shuck of the Washington County Sheriff’s office in an interview with The Marietta Times.
“There’s still going to be a black market, selling it at a reduced rate and profiting illegally,” Shuck said.
In Colorado, which recently became the first state to allow retail distribution of the substance, the retail price of marijuana ranges from $200 to $300 an ounce. Illegal distributors are able to offer significantly lower costs.
In the first week of retail sales, Colorado marijuana dispensaries made over $5 million, according to The Huffington Post. It is projected this will result in nearly $600 million in annual combined wholesale and retail sales for the state.
“It could be a significant source of tax revenue, but I would hesitate to craft policy based (solely) on that,” said Mark Smith, director of Cedarville’s center for political studies. “I’m not making moral equivalents, but gambling revenues can be significant. That doesn’t make it good, even if it is productive economically.”
An additional argument in favor of legalization is the possible medicinal uses of cannabis. An amendment proposed by the Ohio Rights Group, a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of Ohioans to legalize medical and industrial use of marijuana, lists the debilitating medical conditions marijuana has relieved symptoms of, such as multiple sclerosis and cancer.
In an interview with NBC, Drug-Free Action Alliance Executive Director Marcie Seidel said, “Smoked marijuana in its raw state is not medicine. And I think it can be very dangerous for us to vote as individuals for something that we don’t know anything about. What will the long term effects of this be? We don’t know. We don’t have the research.”
In an interview with The Marietta Times, Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson said one of the biggest issues with legalizing marijuana is people can not show up to their job in a condition unable to work.
Smith says this is not a legitimate concern.
“Workplaces can regulate it as they see fit,” he said. “Even if you legalize [marijuana] at the state level, there’s nothing to prevent a company from saying, ‘As a condition of employment here, it’s not going to be allowed and we’ll test you periodically to make sure you’re not taking it.’”
There are additional concerns, and not all are easily combatted by proponents of legalization. Seidel told NBC that since Colorado initially legalized marijuana in 2006, traffic fatalities where the driver had marijuana in their system have more than doubled.
However, an October 2012 study conducted by Montana State University, University of Oregon and University of Colorado Denver faculty showed an 8 to 11 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in states where medical marijuana laws had been in effect for a year or more. The study was unable to determine whether or not this was directly related to legalization or not.
A common argument against marijuana legalization is that legitimization of the drug will open the door for more potent drugs to follow close behind.
“Sometimes it’s appropriate to think about the consequences of an action, but I don’t think that an action, by definition, boxes us into future decision making,” Smith said. “I don’t think one can necessarily say that if we crack the door open on medicinal use that it’s only a matter of time before something worse is legalized.”
Ohio legislator Bob Hagan of Youngstown told The Marietta Times it is unlikely the push for recreational marijuana legalization will continue. According to Hagan, however, the legalization of medicinal marijuana remains a priority among Ohio representatives.
The controversy surrounding marijuana is nothing new. Legislation regarding cannabis finds its roots in colonial America.
According to Robert Deitch’s “Hemp: American History Revisited,” colonists were required by King James I to grow crops specifically for export. To this end, many turned to hemp. In this sense, marijuana permeated early America.
In the mid-1800s, its use shifted. Previously used in the production of rope and fabrics, marijuana became used medicinally and recreationally throughout the second half of the 19th century. The November 1883 edition of Harper’s Magazine describes a marijuana den in New York as a popular gathering place for higher class men and women.
At the start of the 20th century, however, regulations regarding the use of marijuana had been put in place and were readily enforced.
By 1937, with the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act, the possession and sale of cannabis was made illegal throughout the United States with the exception of medicinal purposes, for which an excise tax was enacted. This act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court with the 1969 Leary v. United States decision, which determined that parts of the act violated the Fifth Amendment freedom against self-incrimination.
Under the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 , marijuana was declared a Schedule 1 controlled substance, making its production, sale and possession illegal and prohibiting prescriptions for the substance.
Since this time, individual states have sought to make their own laws regarding marijuana use. It is in this context that Ohio will decide whether or not to legalize marijuana in 2014.
The Ohio Rights Group (ORG) is seeking 385,000 voter signatures by July 2014. If successful, The Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment proposed by ORG will find its way to the ballot in November.
The proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution would give residents age 18 and older the right to use, possess, acquire and produce marijuana should they meet eligibility requirements. Additionally, the amendment would allow industrial use of hemp for paper, fuel, foods, building materials, clothing and more.
An Ohio Commission of Cannabis Control would also be established by a committee representing Ohio voters to regulate the use of marijuana. The amendment would, however, prohibit the operation of motor vehicles while under the influence of marijuana and encourage further research and education regarding the use of cannabis.
Michael Shoemaker is a senior history major and a reporter for Cedars. He enjoys playing guitar, reading whatever he can get his hands on and a hot cup of coffee.