Legalizing marijuana in Ohio is a no-brainer – and overdue: Dave Lange

LAKEWOOD, Ohio — It does seem strange that Ohio voters are being urged to legalize pot by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. Barring some new political hurdle imposed by the anti-freedom caucus in Columbus, a constitutional amendment to that effect will appear on the November 2023 ballot.

As we know, or at least should know, alcohol-impaired driving is responsible for thousands of traffic deaths nationally each year. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that number was 11,654 in 2020, accounting for 30% of all traffic-related deaths.

There is some evidence from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs that fatal traffic accidents increased by about 4% in states where recreational marijuana has been legalized. However, across states, studies have indicated a variance between a 4% increase and a 10% decrease in fatal accidents following legalization.

Objectivity is elusive in comparing alcohol and marijuana traffic dangers.

More strikingly, though, the CDC reports approximately 140,000 deaths per year resulting from excessive alcohol use in the United States. The CDC also reports an average of six alcohol-poisoning deaths per day. The number of such deaths attributed to marijuana use is close to zero. Even the Drug Enforcement Agency acknowledges that zero deaths from marijuana overdoses have been reported.

By any reasonable viewpoint, it’s marijuana that should be legal and alcohol that should be illegal.

That actually occurred in this country between 1920, when the 18th Amendment to the Constitution outlawed alcohol, and 1933, when the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition. Most people are familiar with that history lesson.

They are less knowledgeable about the medicinal benefits of marijuana that have been recognized since at least the 1830s. It was sold in American pharmacies for a variety of ailments as recently as the Prohibition Era. Even modern research has shown its effectiveness in significantly reducing epileptic seizures among children.

The movement to criminalize marijuana gained traction in conjunction with an influx of Mexican immigrants with their pot-smoking tradition in the early 1900s. Harry J. Anslinger, who headed the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, began an all-out war against marijuana in the 1930s.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s 2022 report, “Redressing America’s Racist Cannabis Laws,” cites Anslinger’s capitalization of “racialized fears” in passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. The act effectively made marijuana illegal in the United States, perhaps coincidentally with alcohol legalization four years earlier.

The racial implications remain evident today in the number of marijuana busts. Although use is roughly the same among races, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Marihuana Tax Act was replaced by the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. Fifty-three years later, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug — just like heroin, which, according to the CDC, resulted in over 13,000 overdose deaths in 2020.

Fortunately, marijuana arrests have been declining significantly in Ohio, from 18,335 in 2018 to 6,450 in 2021, but they still accounted for 37% of all 2021 drug busts in the state, according to the pro-marijuana legalization group, NORML.

In 1975, then-Gov. James Rhodes signed a bill that made Ohio the sixth state to decriminalize marijuana, reducing possession of less than 100 grams to a “minor misdemeanor.” It became the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana for certain afflictions in 2016.

Dave Lange

Dave Lange, a retired newspaper editor and member of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, holds a master’s degree in political science.

The question now is whether Ohio will become the 22nd state to legalize recreational, or adult-use, marijuana, or will Ohioans continue contributing to the burgeoning market in neighboring Michigan, which legalized it in 2019? With nearly $2.3 billion in sales last year, Michigan is now the second-largest market in the country, trailing only California. Michigan’s 10% marijuana excise tax, on top of its sales tax, is a handsome bonus to state and local governments.

Cannabis Business Times, a national publication based in Valley View, has projected Ohio as one of four states, along with Minnesota, Oklahoma and Hawaii, that are most likely to legalize marijuana this year.

Last fall, a Spectrum News/Siena College Research Institute poll found that 60% of Ohioans are in favor of that.

David Lange, a retired newspaper editor and member of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, holds a master’s degree in political science.

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