WAUSEON – Responsible Ohio rolled into Fulton County on Tuesday looking for support for its amendment proposing the legalization of marijuana.
The organization’s bright green vehicle stood for about an hour at the corner of Commercial and Fulton streets, as bus tour spokesperson Haley Phillippi stood by armed with information about their Nov. 3 ballot initiative, Issue 3. The amendment calls for the state’s legalization of both recreational and medicinal marijuana for adults 21 and over beginning in 2016.
Crossing Ohio the past two weeks, Responsible Ohio will eventually visit all 88 counties and numerous college campuses to spread its message about marijuana reform. Phillippi said it’s time for the state to stop spending upwards of $200 million a year on failed drug prohibition.
“We believe that when people have access to something they will do it legally rather than illegally. This opens up a lot of opportunities for jobs, tax revenue, and for people to realize it’s time for a change in Ohio,” she said.
Phillippi estimated that a legal marijuana industry will create over 10,000 new jobs for 10 competing growing facilities, five testing facilities, numerous medical dispensaries, independent manufacturers, and at 1,150 retail outlets designated to sell marijuana products. She said legalization will earn the state approximately $554 million in revenue annually, $1.7 million in Fulton County alone. Eighty-five percent of the revenue would be earmarked for county, municipal, and township governments.
“Our amendment is going to bring back a lot of tax revenue for Ohio. It’s going to create jobs (and) we’re going to have a state-regulated industry,” Phillippi said.
It will also permit household members over 21 to grow four marijuana plants for personal use, and maintain eight ounces of usable marijuana product at one time. The plants must be kept in a locked space to prevent access to minors, and growers must purchase a $50 growing license.
Phillippi said there will be penalties for driving vehicles under the influence and using marijuana in public places. Employers will be permitted to test employees for use.
“Edibles,” marijuana-infused retail products such as chocolate, ice cream, and gummy candy, would be labeled as such and come in child-proof packaging. Strict penalties will be issued for giving the products to minors.
“We care about the kids,” Phillippi said.
Responsible Ohio’s petition for legalization collected 700,000 signatures. Currently, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, D.C., have passed legislation permitting recreational marijuana use. Massachusetts, California, Missouri, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Arizona, and Ohio are proposing legalization; several of those states, including Ohio, have an initiative on the Nov. 3 ballot.
The Buckeye State is not among 20 states which have already legalized medicinal marijuana.
Marijuana use is not a healthy option for children, and easier access if it’s legalized is a serious concern, said Beth Thomas, program director for Fulton County’s Healthy Choices, Caring Communities coalition.
Statistics have shown that legalization gives children increased access, including to “edibles,”she said.
“Many of the products are the type children would be typically drawn to,” Thomas said. “They could be in a school or a place of business, and they may be recognized as a traditional candy or ice cream product. We’re concerned about a younger child getting hold of it accidentally, or an adult using it near a child.”
Thomas also worries that marijuana can be a “gateway” drug that leads to other illegal substances.
“Those that start with marijuana are more likely to go on to a different type of drug. Oftentimes, it starts with marijuana because the access is easier, and it introduces them to the drug culture,” she said. “I urge people to take the time to understand what this proposed amendment would allow before voting.”
Fulton County Sheriff Roy Miller doesn’t understand why citizens would be allowed to vote to legalize marijuana when that decision should be under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“I thought that’s why we have the FDA out there. When do we decide as citizens when to approve something?” he asked.
Miller said legalization would present numerous concerns for law enforcement agencies. They would include spending additional taxpayer dollars to train officers to detect marijuana intoxication, and for necessary lab testing. The process would also require more of an officer’s time.
And legalizing marijuana would not eliminate black market sales but make the sellers more competitive, the sheriff said. He also worries about the potential potency of legal pot, “especially if people become careless and a young child gets hold of it.”
Advertising strategies are also a concern. “Are they treating it any differently than beer and alcohol marketing? These are things I haven’t got an answer for,” Miller said.
“There are just a lot of what-ifs out there. This is going to affect the workplace, it’s going to affect business owners. How many people are going to follow the law? It’s going to create a lot of problems.”
District 1 Senator Cliff Hite (R-Findlay) is against the ballot initiative. An opponent of marijuana legalization, he said passage of Issue 3 would fly directly in the face of the federal government’s recognition of marijuana as an illegal Type 1 drug.
“I think it causes a lot more problems in the workforce and with our children,” he said.
But he’s also against what he describes as an opportunity for a small group of people to monopolize a marijuana industry in the state.
“We would as a constituency say its okay for people to implement a monopoly, and I can’t support people using the (state) Constitution to monopolize some kind of business,” he said.
Hite said Ohio legislators are offering Issue 2 on the November ballot, which would disallow such a monopoly and effectively kill Issue 3.
To view Issue 3, the proposed Responsible Ohio amendment, visit www.sos.state.oh.us.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.