A Dispassionate Defense
In life and legislation, it is not enough to simply do right and be right— things must be done for the right reasons, in the right spirit. There are many on both sides of this issue whose opposition or support hinges upon unfounded assumptions or hopes of unfettered access to a mind-altering substance. These voices must not be heeded in a decision which will impact our lives and the lives of generations hence.
I am a firm believer that the surest way to solve a problem is by preventing it from becoming one in the first place. This is what I believe Issue 3 achieves.
The most destructive direct effects of marijuana on the user, which cannot and should not be denied, occur when marijuana has been administered heavily beginning in adolescence. These include a loss of 8 IQ points on average, a loss irreversible even if the user quits using as an adult. This loss in IQ points is not observed, however, in users who only began using heavily in adulthood. A permanent deficit in the long-term memory capacity of users having begun in adolescence should also be noted.
Under Issue 3, the only ones younger than 21 who could legally use or have access to marijuana in any quantity would be those with a certified debilitating medical condition.
The enactment of the minimum legal age of possession, purchase and consumption of 21 would effectively quash the black market, which currently exists, supplying thousands of minors. The existing prohibition of marijuana only engenders this black market, as did the prohibition of alcohol.
And to no one’s surprise, we do not worry about the black market for alcohol today. Furthermore, by inhibiting availability to those at an age where there is greater temptation to experiment with the illegal— a temptation significantly diminished by adulthood— aggregate usage will too decline.
To be sure, the argument for marijuana as a “gateway drug”—that is, a substance that increases the likelihood for use of other, more harmful or addictive substances— is not one to be dismissed, though its scope has been exaggerated. While most people who use marijuana do not move on to “harder” substances, it cannot be denied that users of such “hard” substances often began with marijuana. Once again, the key is interdiction during adolescence. Vulnerability to further drug addiction is chiefly determined by exposure during adolescence, when the brain is rapidly growing and forming. If exposure can be delayed during these years, something Issue 3 would largely accomplish, likelihood of future drug use is immediately decreased.
As with all legislation, we must consider the cost and benefit to society at large— not ourselves alone. Existing marijuana laws in the state of Ohio and nationally have disproportionally, though not exclusively, affected communities of color. Despite relatively equal rates of consumption, black Ohioans, who account for roughly 13.5% of the state population, are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts. The price of a marijuana possession arrest or conviction is paid over a lifetime in employment opportunities, child custody determinations, and countless other arenas. Regardless of your feelings on marijuana as a substance, there exists a great moral injustice, and voters on Issue 3 will have a chance to right this wrong.
And of course, no argument in favor of legalization is complete without mention of the economic stimulus the legislation would generate. Annual Issue 3 tax revenue is estimated to be at least $133 million, with an upper bound of $293 million. The estimated annual direct public expenditures of the proposal are approximately $17.7 million, leaving the remainder to be diverted to any number of initiatives, including but not limited to marijuana education for minors and addressing critical public health initiatives such as curbing Ohio’s rampant heroin epidemic and rehabilitation treatment for addicts.
This is to say nothing of the millions of dollars the state will concurrently save no longer burdened with housing, feeding, and caring for thousands of nonviolent possessory offenders and other enforcement measures. The establishment of a yet nonexistent (legal) industry will also create tens of thousands of jobs for the people of Ohio.
No legislation is entirely without detriment, but voters on November 3 will hold in their hands the power to positively impact countless lives through employment opportunities, access to a medical treatment, and innumerable other ways. If they have their fellow Ohioans’ interests at heart, they will take it.
A Con Ballot
A constitutional amendment known as The Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative, or Issue 3, is on the ballot for November 3, 2015. While the goal of this amendment may seem straightforward, it’s proven to be anything but.
Issue 3 aims to legalize medical and recreational marijuana in one go: set up ten plots of land for marijuana cultivation in Ohio, allow all people of age 21 or over to grow up to eight ounces of marijuana, ramp up taxes on marijuana-related products and services, and implement a handful of new marijuana testing facilities across the state. That’s a lot to take in at once, so lets break down the issue.
Despite your beliefs about the morality, or lack thereof, of the use of marijuana, we can surely all agree that there are quite a few uncertainties surrounding the drug. Claims of health benefits of the drug are widely criticized for having little factual support, and the same goes for claims that marijuana is harmful. However, there have been conclusive studies about the damaging effects that frequent marijuana use can have on adolescent brains.
How can Ohioans be expected to vote for a bill to legalize something that we don’t even fully understand? The language of Issue 3 itself admits to this lack of understanding when it says that passing the amendment will allow the government to “locate marijuana testing facilities near colleges and universities in Athens, Cuyahoga, Lorain, Mahoning, Scioto and Wood Counties, at a minimum.” Doesn’t this seem backwards? Shouldn’t testing come first and legalization second?
Furthermore, in looking to other states that have legalized marijuana in various capacities, we tend to ignore harmful side effects. Colorado’s legalization of marijuana for people over 21 has led to a sharp spike in drug-related expulsions among teens and an increase in drugged-driving incidents. It has also been observed that Denver’s homeless population skyrocketed following legalization.
It’s great that Colorado made $6 million in pot revenue between 2014 and 2015. I’m not denying that. But at what cost did that money come?
Legalization also runs the risk of harming neighboring states. Illegal movement of cannabis and cannabis products into other states has become increasingly difficult to stop, forcing governments surrounding Colorado and Oregon to work harder than ever before in an effort to keep their states pot-free. In fact, Oklahoma and Nebraska filed a lawsuit against Colorado for its marijuana legalization making it more difficult for them to enforce state laws.
Even assuming that you’re completely pro-legalization, Issue 3 is still problematic. The amendment plans to create “a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes.” What will this monopoly entail? Well, only ten plots of land will be allowed for the cultivation of the drug, and these ten plots will all be controlled by private investors.
With so little competition in the cannabis market, prices will likely be ridiculous and a select few will profit from sales. This leads me to my final point: Issue 3 is based in greed, not in a want for a healthier Ohio.
If the legalization of medical marijuana in order to help those who need it is what the people want, then there’s a very different process we should be going through. Drugs have to go through the FDA before being legalized in order to prove their positive effects and determine side effects. Why isn’t medical marijuana going through this process?
There are plenty of illegal drugs with legal counterparts. For example, morphine could be considered a watered-down version of heroin, considering that the two are both opiates and both very powerful. Morphine, however, is strictly regulated despite its legality which the FDA does its best to keep its use under control. This is not what’s happening with marijuana.
According to its website, “The FDA has not approved marijuana as a safe and effective drug for any indication.” Why then are we trying to stick it into our state’s constitution? Other ways of safely and legally getting marijuana to those who it could potentially benefit exist, so why try to instead evade the organization whose job is to control these things by tacking new drugs into the very framework of our state government?
At least the medical marijuana “we’re trying to help the sick people” scam is well-thought through, the recreational marijuana campaign isn’t even addressed in pro Issue 3 advertisements. People are well aware that saying “we’re going to make lots of money off of this so please vote for it” isn’t a great argument, so pro Issue 3 groups are just trying to sneak the recreational side of things into the ballot and hope that no one asks any questions.
In considering Issue 3, we all need to take a step back and look at what its real goal is. It’s not about helping patients or reducing crime. It’s about money, and how can you urge a pro ballot on an amendment to our very constitution that revolves around drugs, deception, and self-serving greed?
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