WAUSEON – Rather than being the win-win situation advocates claim, legalizing marijuana in Ohio would create more complications for the government, law enforcement agencies, and employers than currently exist.
That was the message given last Tuesday by Ohio Auditor Dave Yost and Fulton County’s Prosecutor Scott Haselman and Sheriff Roy Miller during presentations about November ballot initiatives Issue 2 and Issue 3 at a meeting of the Fulton County Economic Development Corporation.
Speaking to a packed house of FCEDC members and guests at the Rotary Park shelterhouse in Wauseon, the officials warned that legal pot would cost the state money and productivity, as well as rob citizens of their right to dictate law.
Yost spoke about his support of Issue 2, the Ohio Initiated Monopolies Amendment, which would invalidate voter approval on the Nov. 3 ballot of initiatives establishing economic monopolies. The amendment was conceived specifically to negate Issue 3, the Marijuana Legalization Initiative.
Yost said legalizing pot would allow 10 teams of investors the exclusive right to grow marijuana for the state on properties they purchased through shares costing $2 million each. He said that would give the investors–in some cases, consortiums– complete control of a legal marijuana industry across Ohio.
“For all intents and purposes, if Issue 3 passes, the folks that are in charge of these 10 sites have a license to make money forever and ever, in perpetuity. I think that’s a bad idea,” Yost said.
He compared the campaign for legal pot to the push in 2009 to legalize gambling in Ohio. That initiative included a monopoly provision allowing only four casino sites in the state. Yost said the voters’ approval gave the casino owners, “who were already pretty rich, exclusive license to make a bunch more money, and setting it up in the Constitution so it couldn’t be changed.”
The gambling initiative paired something voters liked–economic development and funding for education–“with something we were not too sure whether we agreed with or not. That was the gambling part,” he said.
The marijuana proposal is nothing but an initiative process to write a business into the Ohio Constitution, Yost told the gathering. He said Issue 2 will permanently prevent cartels from spending large amounts of money to pass petitions that offer a false selection of economic development and jobs in exchange for a monopoly.
“The powerful few have taken the safety valve for people and they turned it upside down. They hijacked it for themselves so that they can pursue their own interests again by using their big checkbook,” he said. “When a powerful few are blocking legislative reform through the legislature we should have a route for the people for whom the government exists to be able to go and change the law themselves.”
Sheriff Miller said legalizing marijuana will increase his department’s requirement to spend $50–and sometimes upward of $150–apiece for state blood tests to detect motorists under the drug’s influence. The cost cannot be recouped.
He also believes legalization will do nothing to eliminate the black market that currently provides marijuana available on the street.
“There’s always going to be competition. Whoever can sell it the cheapest, that’s where they’re going to get it,” he said of users.
Legal pot also would cause employment issues, Miller said. In addition to an increase in related incidents on the job and workman compensation cases, employers may have to worry about the legalities of firing someone under the influence. Under those circumstances, attorney costs could run between $60,000-$100,000 if the case is lost, not including a settlement.
Haselman said now is the time for employers to look at their policies, before pot might become legal. The federal government lists it as an illegal, controlled substance, “so you have to express to your employees…that this is still a drug-free workplace,” the prosecutor said.
“If you’re an employer, you have to put your ducks in a row today, and express to your employees…just because this has passed does not mean you get to go do whatever you want on Saturday night and come to work Monday morning. You’ve got to set that stuff in place today, and think about it in advance.”
As for crime, statistics show about 70 percent related to drugs, Haselman said. He said drugs account for about two-thirds of felony crimes and 55 percent of thefts in Fulton County.
“When people say (marijuana is) a victimless crime, don’t buy that,” he advised.
Haselman challenged claims of revenue windfalls in states legalizing pot. He noted that Colorado, which legalized marijuana in 2014, expected to raise upwards of $100 million but brought in only about half that amount.
That, he said, can be attributed to illegal sales. Buyers at a legal pot shop will pay a large excise tax, allowing street pushers to sell for less.
“Right now, certain drug cartels are essentially Fortune 500 companies. They’re run like a business,” Haselman said. “It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. (They’re) not just going to give it away to the government.”
And he expressed concern for “edibles,” marijuana oil-infused products such as candy and other comestibles that can contain as much as 90 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active chemical in marijuana.
“We always say kids will never get to these things, but of course kids always get to these things,” he said.
Studies show how damaging pot can be to children, let alone adults, Haselman said. THC levels in marijuana have increased, from 3.96 in 1995 to 12.3 percent in 2015.
Yost said voters would do well to pass Issue 2 and kill the initiative to legalize pot.
“It’s not inevitable. It isn’t the wave of the future, in spite of what’s being said,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.
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