Looking To Legalize In The Buckeye State

Should marijuana — growing, selling, and consuming — be legalized in Ohio?  A number of different groups and legalization advocates are pushing to put the issue before voters in the Buckeye State, perhaps as early as this fall.

In fact, there are several apparently well-funded efforts pursuing different proposals that vary in material ways — a sign, perhaps, that legalized marijuana is now a big business, but also a source of confusion.  One proposal wants to permit cultivation and use of medical marijuana, as 23 states have done; others want to move directly to making Ohio the fifth state, after Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, to fully legalize cannabis.  There are other differences as well, on issues such who can grow the crop and where, how much people can possess, and whether revenues from taxes on marijuana would be dedicated to fund pension plans, fix roads and bridges, or used for other purposes.

The bigger question, of course, is whether Ohioans are ready to move toward legalization.  Ohio has never been the leader in new initiatives that move sharply in any direction on the political or social spectrum; it didn’t legalize casino gambling until it was surrounded by states that had done so — and even then only in the throes of the Great Recession when casino gambling promised to deliver desperately needed jobs.  The Buckeye State has long been a place of moderation, where political disagreements don’t get nasty and common sense prevails, which is why Ohio is always a crucial swing state when presidential elections roll around.

I doubt that Ohio voters are ready to legalize marijuana right now.  I expect opponents to make the argument that the Buckeye State should take a wait-and-see approach.  Let the states that have gone the full-scale legalization route be the laboratories of democracy, and let Ohio sit back until the evidence is clearer on what it all means in terms of overall use, drug addiction, crime, job creation, tax revenues, pot tourism, and the other areas that might be affected by legalization.  What’s the rush?  With the bump in employment and tax revenues delivered by the Utica Shale development efforts in eastern Ohio, opponents might argue, it’s not like Ohio needs to be out front on the issue.

On the other hand, Ohio’s status as a bellwether state presumably makes it a tantalizing prospect for legalization advocates.  If moderate, level-headed Ohioans can be convinced to amend their state constitution to legalize marijuana, that would certainly tell you something about the overall national mood on the issue.

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