Advocates on both sides of Ohio’s Issue 2 to legalize marijuana hit the media circuit in recent weeks to discuss how the passage on November 7th would affect citizens.
Spectrum News and the Columbus Dispatch hosted a debate to dive into some of the more controversial aspects of the proposed law.
Issue 2 Polling Favors Passage
A Baldwin Wallace University poll published Oct 17th reported that 57 percent of the 850 registered voters they spoke to said they plan to vote “yes” on Issue 2. Just 7 percent of respondents were undecided. Voter turnout is expected to be much higher than in a normal non-presidential election, coupled particularly with Issue 1, which also looks favorable to pass according to the BWU poll.
While it appears a majority of Ohioans support this initiative, opponents have come out of the woodwork to raise concerns and arguments against it. Who are the opponents of Ohio Issue and what are their objections?
Spectrum News and the Columbus Dispatch Host Issue 2 Debate
Spectrum News and the Columbus Dispatch hosted a debate recently to dive into some of the more controversial aspects of the proposed law.
Under Issue 2, Ohioans could buy and possess 2.5 ounces of cannabis flower, which is slightly more than 70 grams. Currently, possessing up to 100 grams of marijuana in Ohio is a minor misdemeanor that comes with a fine up to $150. In 38 cities across Ohio, marijuana is already decriminalized, meaning no penalties would be levied for possession under 200 grams. Under Issue 2, Ohioans could also grow their own cannabis at home, up to 12 plants per household.
The proponents who spoke on behalf of Issue 2 were State Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) and Thomas Haren, Cannabis Law Group. Sen. Mark Romanchuk (R-Ontario) and Corrinne LaMarca, a national spokesperson for Parents Opposed to Pot, spoke in opposition to Issue 2.
What are the Issue 2 issues?
Some of the topics that Issue 2 tackles involve public safety, health, impact on youth and economic impact, and conflict with existing federal law.
- Safety Concerns: Opponents raise concerns about public safety, arguing that legalizing marijuana may lead to an increase in impaired driving incidents. They say that marijuana users will take to the roads under the influence, endangering themselves and others.
LaMarca spoke first, recounting a story about her daughter who was killed by a “medical marijuana impaired driver” from Michigan who happened to be traveling through Ohio in 2012. “I wish I could tell you that what happened to my daughter is a rare event but it is not. So many people are dying from impaired crashes from marijuana,” she claimed.
According to projections from the anti-Issue 2 group Protect Ohio Workers and Families, passage of Issue 2 would cause Ohio to suffer 48 more fatal car crashes and 2,298 more injury crashes.
No Causal Link
Haren said studies like the one by Protect Ohio Workers and Families do not demonstrate a causal link between regulation and those crashes.
Also, pointing to an increase in drivers testing positive for cannabis after a crash is misleading, said Haren. “We know that marijuana stays in your system for several days, if not weeks, so if somebody has a cannabis edible on Wednesday and they get into a fender bender on Saturday, no rational person will say, ‘You know what caused that traffic crash? It was the gummy that you had three and a half days ago,’” he said.
A 2023 literature review did not find a significant relationship between testing positive for cannabis as a driver and the risk of having an accident.
Not a Free-For-All
Legalization certainly does not mean a free-for-all in terms of impaired driving. States with legalized marijuana have implemented strict DUI laws and invested in public education campaigns to discourage driving under the influence. Currently, cannabis dispensaries cannot freely advertise in Ohio, otherwise they would already be educating about it.
Additionally, legalizing marijuana would free up law enforcement for fighting more dangerous crimes on and off the roads, making communities safer overall.
- Health Impact: Opponents claim that marijuana is a gateway drug that can lead to the use of more dangerous substances.
While necessary to acknowledge potential health risks, it’s equally important to recognize that marijuana is less harmful than other legal substances, such as alcohol and tobacco. Large, well-respected national health organizations now note that marijuana is not a direct gateway to harder drugs.
Furthermore, Ohio already has a robust medical marijuana program. The evidence is significant that cannabis can be used to treat an unknown and growing range of health conditions, including chronic pain, epilepsy, and nausea in cancer patients. Ohio’s 107 medical marijuana dispensaries are full of knowledgeable budtenders and pharmacists who counsel patients every day on how to use cannabis medicinally and warn about risks of improper use.
Impact on Youth
- Impact on Youth: Opponents argue that legalizing marijuana will lead to increased accessibility for young people, potentially exposing them to the risks associated with its use. They fear that a legal market will make it easier for minors to obtain marijuana, which could harm their development and academic performance.
A 2021 study shows that implementation of adult use laws was not associated with increases in adolescent cannabis use. Still, regulations and strict age controls can help mitigate these concerns, just like why we regulate alcohol. States that have legalized marijuana implement sophisticated systems to prevent underage access.
Additionally, by regulating the market, Ohio can ensure that products are labeled accurately and produced safely, reducing the risks of contaminated or dangerous substances that youth may encounter in the illicit market.
- Economic Concerns: Issue 2 proposes a 10 percent cannabis tax on all adult-use sales. Opponents often argue that the economic benefits of marijuana legalization are exaggerated.
Opponents of Ohio’s Issue 2 to legalize marijuana contend that the costs of regulating and enforcing a legal marijuana market may outweigh the potential revenue gains. Especially when considering the social costs associated with increased marijuana use.
Haren said estimates from other states are at about $400 million per year that an adult use program could generate for the state. He laid out how the revenue would be divided. He highlighted the dramatic economic impact legalizing could have on communities in Ohio who host adult use dispensaries. In addition to social equity and jobs programs, an adult use program could help fund drug prevention and treatment, mental health services, and education.
Read more about Issue 2 here to see the exact allotments.
Economic Impact Numbers Questioned
Sen. Romanchuk disagreed with the economic impact estimates that were put forth. He claimed that marijuana would not be financially beneficial for Ohio. “Ten percent is a very low tax rate,” he says. “Especially when you consider Illinois and the state of Washington has something like a 30 percent rate. We even charge casinos 33 percent.”
Sen. Weinstein countered that the economic impact numbers are not theoretical. They are based on actual sales figures from similar-sized states such as Michigan that have legalized marijuana in recent years.
Haren also noted that the revenue generated will have a social impact. “That fund — in addition to the direct investment to disproportionately impacted communities — is designed to fund and steady criminal justice reform efforts including sentencing reform, bail reform, parole reform, record-sealing and expungement efforts,” he said.
Conflict with Federal Law
- Federal Law Conflict: Opponents point out that marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, creating a conflict between state and federal laws. They argue that this conflict could lead to potential legal issues for Ohio residents who choose to use or invest in the marijuana industry.
While federal laws still classify marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, the government has recently considered rescheduling. And President Biden supports descheduling marijuana. By creating a well-regulated state system now, Ohio can better protect its residents and avoid the complications associated with federal intervention both now and down the road.
Conclusion: Legalizing Would Bring A Wealth of Benefits to Ohioans
Opponents of Ohio Issue 2 raise valid concerns, but it’s essential to consider the counterarguments that challenge these concerns. Legalizing marijuana has the potential to bring about significant benefits, from improved public health outcomes to increased tax revenue and job creation. As the debate rages on, it is crucial to weigh these arguments carefully and make an informed decision that best serves the interests of Ohio and its residents.
Watch Live: DEPC Panel Discussion Oct 23rd
A panel discussion about Ohio’s Issue 2 to legalize marijuana will be hosted by the Ohio State University Drug Enforcement and Policy Center. It’s on Monday, October 23rd from noon to 1:15 p.m. You can register for that here.
Columbus Voter Rally
Our Career Fair & Issue 2 Voter Rally is on November 1st at the Kee in Columbus. Get more details and register free here.
Ohioans can vote early now or vote in the general election on November 7th. Find your polling place.