It’s almost impossible to discuss legalizing marijuana, whether for medical or recreational purposes, without a few giggles. But the issue really deserves the type of serious attention Ohio gives to the bad economy, government budget issues, women’s rights and LGBT rights.
It’s not funny, for example, that an Ohio cancer patient struggling with nausea and loss of appetite as a result of chemotherapy has three options: use inadequate, potentially addictive medication; pay for a costly trip to a state where marijuana is legal; or buy it illegally, risking fines and marks on a criminal record.
It’s also not funny that a military veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder or a child with epilepsy can’t legally use marijuana or a psycho-inactive variation of the drug, even when doctors realize that it might be the best option for a patient.
And it’s absolutely not funny that, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, Ohio’s black population is more than four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though several surveys show blacks and whites use marijuana at relatively similar rates.
Yet it was only five years ago when President Barack Obama, asked in a town hall about legalizing marijuana, chuckled and responded, “I don’t know what this says about the online audience.”
Thankfully, Obama has changed his tune since then, and his administration is now allowing Colorado and Washington to carry on with their legalization “experiments.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem Ohio followed the president’s evolution.
The Ohio Rights Group continues pushing medical marijuana legalization, but the response so far, with a July deadline quickly approaching, seems tame.
Even if the group got all its circulated petitions fully filled out, it would only have 246,000 signatures on hand — far below the 385,247 necessary to get the issue on the ballot in November. Fundraising is equally grim: Contributions to the group totaled $22,000 last year, with only $4,500 remaining on hand for future expenditures.
Part of the issue might be that the government’s anti-marijuana propaganda in recent years influenced some would-be supporters. It was only a decade or so ago that the government and anti-drug campaigns exaggerated marijuana-caused problems in large public awareness campaigns backed by little to no scientific evidence — a misguided attempt to scare the public away from a drug that has caused no recorded deaths, unlike tobacco and alcohol.
Another part of the issue might be hypocritical parents who, despite using marijuana during their own teenage years and turning out just fine, believe the drug somehow ruins lives.
But even if one personally thinks marijuana is dangerous, the current attempts to keep it illegal and out of the hands of drug users aren’t working at all. According to numerous surveys, marijuana use has remained relatively flat since the 1990s. Similarly, the federal government’s own numbers show marijuana prices remained mostly flat since the 1990s, which means marijuana remains affordable despite the Drug Enforcement Agency’s best attempts to choke illegal supplies and therefore increase costs.
In other words, federal and state governments are throwing hundreds of millions of dollars each year into keeping marijuana illegal with absolutely nothing to show for it.
But here’s the funny thing: When states began legalizing medical marijuana, use of the drug didn’t spike. The data from Colorado actually shows marijuana use falling among youth between 2005 and 2011, even though the state was already below the national average for reported use.
What instead happened in Colorado and other states that legalized marijuana, whether for medical or recreational uses, is that new businesses created thousands of jobs and helped fill local and state governments’ tax coffers. And several reports indicate tourists are now visiting Colorado just to enjoy the state’s newfound freedom, which brings in even more business and revenue.
Given the rough shape of Ohio’s — and, really, the nation’s — economy, that kind of business growth should be top priority.
But if the conservatives in charge of the state refuse to budge on the issue, Ohioans don’t have to wait. Voters have an opportunity right now to reverse course by putting medical marijuana on the ballot and voting it into law.
Judging by the state of the war on drugs, Ohioans would be doing themselves a serious disservice if they missed this opportunity.