Ohioans will decide on a law on recreational marijuana this week
While the constitutional amendment on reproductive rights on next week’s ballot is getting most of the attention and money, the second question is a big one too. Issue 2 would make Ohio the 24th state to legalize and regulate the growing, manufacturing, testing and sale of recreational marijuana to people over 21.
“We think the entire state of Ohio benefits from Issue 2," said Tom Haren, who speaks for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which put Issue 2 before voters.
There isn't much organized support for Issue 2. But the opposition includes Ohio's largest businesses, law enforcement and children's health experts.
“This is bad for Ohio. And if it's going to come to Ohio, this is not the way for it to happen," said Ohio Auditor Keith Faber.
Under Issue 2, Ohioans over 21 could each have six plants per person and a dozen per residence.
Issue 2 imposes a 10% excise tax on marijuana sales, along with the 5.75% state sales tax and local sales taxes up to 2.25%. The revenue has been estimated at $218 million to over $400 million a year.
Two-thirds would be split evenly between a social equity and jobs program fund and funding for communities that have dispensaries. A quarter will go to addiction treatment and 3% to administration costs.
Opponents note there’s no direct money to law enforcement in Issue 2, and they’re especially concerned about money to help people who’ve been convicted of marijuana-related laws set up cannabis businesses, which Faber called “the drug dealers and their family” fund.
“A third of the tax so it's really continues to go back to subsidize people coming into the industry. It is absolutely crazy. I don't know of any other circumstance where we actually give tax revenue directly to drug dealers to open drug dealing operations," Faber said.
Haren said that’s "scare tactics" – that people can qualify for that assistance in other ways too, but the goals are a cannabis industry that’s representative and help for those harmed by marijuana prohibition.
“There is a part of it that goes to helping with finances and technical assistance," Haren said. "It also goes to study and fund these important criminal justice reform efforts as well as direct investment in disproportionately impacted communities to enhance education, entrepreneurism, legal aid, youth development and violence prevention.”
The questions of public safety and pot – in workplaces, on the roads and with children – are among the most hotly debated points, with both sides showing studies backing their view.
The Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Manufacturers Association have been among Issue 2’s most outspoken opponents - out of concern for safety, but also because of potentially increased costs of testing for marijuana use.
Rick Carfagna was a Republican member of the Ohio House and now is with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and cites stats from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
"We have tens of thousands of jobs coming to the state of Ohio in the next three to five years. And when you look at those types of jobs, by and large, they're going to be in manufacturing. We're talking about precision work," Carfagna said. “We've seen in other states that you've have decreased productivity, increased worker's compensation claims, increased unemployment claims, higher turnover, lawsuits."
But Haren countered by citing studies from other states and one from Canada last year showing no difference in workplace injury rates before and after marijuana legalization. He says employees can be trusted to use marijuana in their private lives responsibly.
“Nobody thinks it's a good idea to show up to work, just like nobody thinks it's a good idea to show up drunk to work," Haren said. "And in fact, there's actually data to suggest that workers between the ages of 40 and 62 actually are more productive because they have other alternatives to manage chronic pain and they don't need to turn to prescription drugs or opiates."
Ohio's children's hospitals are also opposed to Issue 2, along with the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Buckeye State Sheriffs Association and the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police.
There are Ohioans buying marijuana in other states legally or in state illegally now. Haren said just as people don’t bootleg booze or download pirated music anymore, the illicit market will dry up with this legalization and regulation. But opponents said drug dealers won’t be driven out of business, because they’ll be able to sell their tax free product cheaper.
Opponents have said kids can use marijuana as a gateway to harder drugs, but Haren said studies show regulation doesn’t increase youth usage. Haren said parts of the law are modeled after the state’s medical marijuana program, including provisions to ban sales or marketing to children, but opponents said it’ll be difficult for regulators to ensure that along with everything else.
Issue 2 would not directly affect Ohio’s medical marijuana program. And it would be a law, so it could be changed by lawmakers – and the Republican leaders of the House and Senate have said it will be discussed if it passes.