Issue 3 Will Boost Ohio’s Economy

Aaron Pressman, Columnist

Every 37 seconds, someone is arrested for nonviolent possession of marijuana in the U.S. In 2010, the U.S. spent over $3.5 billion on marijuana law enforcement. In 2012, 42.4 percent of FBI drug arrests were for marijuana. The war on drugs has failed, and draconian, racist and expensive marijuana laws must be taken off the books. Come November, Ohio voters will have the ability to vote “Yes” on Issue 3 and legalize both medical and recreational marijuana in the state. Voting in favor of this initiative will save lives, help counteract mass incarceration and boost Ohio’s economy.

Issue 3 is a fairly straightforward marijuana legalization measure, similar to those of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. The measure legalizes medical marijuana and recreational marijuana for those over the age of 21. Individuals would be limited to possessing one ounce of purchased marijuana at a time and would be allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants. Driving under the influence of marijuana and consuming marijuana in public would both remain illegal.

One serious concern cited by opponents to Issue 3 is that the amendment restricts cultivation of cannabis to 10 specific growers in designated locations throughout the state of Ohio. I am extremely sympathetic to this concern and have similar concerns about Ohio restricting the free market in the cannabis industry. However, I caution any marijuana-legalization supporters against using this as the only reason to oppose such an amendment. Individuals will still be permitted to grow their own cannabis, and another amendment can always be passed to allow for more growers in the future. While I absolutely do not support a state-mandated oligopoly in the industry, this is the best chance Ohioans have for legalization, and the benefits tremendously outweigh this drawback. Focusing too much on the motives of the amendment’s creators will only divide supporters of legalization and create more hurdles on the path to legalization.

Legalizing marijuana is crucial because the drug has extensive medical benefits and is relatively harmless, even for recreational users. The U.S. government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it has the highest potential for abuse and lacks any accepted medical benefits. In comparison, cocaine is listed as a Schedule II drug. Not only does scientific research prove marijuana’s classification to be entirely ungrounded, but the government is constantly unable to justify its position. For example, a statement on the White House’s website says a marijuana “‘high’ can affect [brain] functions in a variety of ways, causing distorted perceptions, impairing coordination, causing difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and creating problems with memory and learning.” However, this is just putting a negative spin on the sensations of a high. None of these examples cause any long-term damage, and most of these symptoms are also applicable to alcohol, which is exempted from drug scheduling. The website then goes on to discuss how heavy marijuana users can develop lung cancer, which has some scientific backing, but even the heaviest of smokers do not harm their lungs anywhere near as much as those who smoke tobacco. Besides, this is a criticism of the ingestion method — smoking — and not the substance itself. Vaping and eating marijuana, both reasonable and common forms of ingestion, do not cause harm to the lungs. The White House also claims marijuana is dangerous because it is the “most commonly abused illicit drug.” However, frequency of usage has nothing to do with health concerns.

In actuality, tobacco and alcohol have scientifically been proven to be significantly more harmful. To put this in perspective, no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose — some people do die from marijuana-related causes, and though the exact number has not been fully determined, it is very low — compared to the 480,000 people who die each year in the U.S. from cigarette smoking, or the 88,000 people in the U.S. killed each year from alcohol. In 1988, the Drug Enforcement Agency even found that one would have to ingest the equivalent THC content of between 20,000 and 40,000 joints to be at risk of overdosing.

Marijuana has countless medical uses including treatment of some of the symptoms of epilepsy, cancer, anxiety, HIV/ AIDS, appetite issues, nausea and sleep disorders. Despite being proven time and time again, the FDA still refuses to accept the medical benefits of marijuana because it refuses to conduct its own large-scale clinical trials. 23 states have already recognized the medical benefits of marijuana, and Ohio should follow suit.

Marijuana legalization will also help reduce mass incarceration. No one should get caught up in the legal system, lose their liberty and, in many cases, see their children grow up without a parent because they wanted to use a relatively harmless medicinal or recreational substance. Not only are we destroying the lives of marijuana users and their families, but taxpayers must foot the bill. Additionally, in Ohio, black people are 4.1 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana use, even though they use it at comparable rates. There is proven systemic racism in the justice system, and drugs such as marijuana are one of the most common areas where this systemic racism shows.

Finally, the creation of a legal marijuana industry will prove to be economically beneficial to Ohio, much as has been in states that have already legalized marijuana. In addition to saving millions of dollars on marijuana enforcement and legal costs, Issue 3 will implement a 15 percent tax on growers and a five percent tax on gross revenue of retailers. 85 percent of the tax revenue will go to Ohio cities, counties, towns and townships. States in which marijuana is legal have seen the benefits: Colorado made $70 million in marijuana tax revenue during their last fiscal year, and Washington made over $70 million in taxes during their first year of legalization. Issue 3 will also create many jobs in agriculture, wholesale and retail, which will put Ohioans to work and stimulate the economy further.

Issue 3 may not be the best marijuana legalization initiative on the books, but it is the best chance Ohioans have right now. Don’t stand idly by as this natural and medically beneficial substance ruins people’s lives — not because it is harmful, but because it is banned.