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Hagan’s medical marijuana proposal merits discussion

Published: Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

State Rep. Robert F. Hagan. D-58th, has been in favor of legalizing marijuana in the state — especially for medicinal use — for years and has introduced bills to do so in the past. He’s doing so again — with a two-pronged approach this time — but he has to know that the chances for a Republican-dominated Legislature to jump on the legalization bandwagon is slim.

Even dangling the possibility of a 15 percent sin tax on the sale of recreational marijuana isn’t likely to attract fiscal conservatives to Hagan’s cause.

As one of his Democratic colleagues, Ronald V. Gerberry of Austintown, said, “this is the most conservative Legislature I have served with in the past 25 years, and based upon that, it would make passage very difficult.”

That’s probably an understatement.

Hagan’s House Bill 153 would allow medical marijuana use, with qualifying users required to register with the state and obtain physician certifications.

Hagan also is offering a joint resolution that would place an issue on the ballot to allow adults “to legally purchase, cultivate and use cannabis recreationally.” That proposal, modeled after a recently passed amendment in Colorado, would create state-licensed outlets and tax sales at 15 percent.

The time may have come for a serious discussion of the alleged unique benefits of marijuana in the treatment of some medical conditions. If the case can be made for marijuana as a treatment or palliative for some diseases or conditions, the first question is whether the drug must be smoked, or whether the chemical components of marijuana couldn’t be dispensed in pill form as a prescription drug. Some patients claim that only when they smoke marijuana do they receive its benefits, but that’s anecdotal, not scientific, evidence.

The second question would be what specific conditions would be approved for treatment with marijuana, and specific is the key word. The potential for abuse under a poorly written medical marijuana law is immense.

Potential for abuse

Kevin Sabet, a nationally known crusader against medical marijuana in the traditional form, spoke earlier this year at the Ohio Statehouse when a ballot issue to legalize marijuana was being discussed. The Columbus Dispatch reported that he testified that in 18 states and the District of Columbia where medical marijuana is legal, just 5 percent of those receiving the drug have severe medical problems. He said the typical user is “a 32-year-old white male with a history of drug-abuse problems and no major medical history.” Ailments for which marijuana was most often prescribed were headaches and stress.

That makes a mockery of any attempt to provide marijuana to those for whom it is the only medical alternative, if such patients exist.

As to expanding the legalization of marijuana for casual use, that is largely uncharted waters. Let those states that have already done so be the laboratories for marijuana experimentation.

We see two key arguments against wholesale legalization. One is that no matter what the states do, marijuana remains a illegal under federal law.

The other is that, unlike alcohol and many other drugs, tests to show marijuana impairment are far from exact science. A company has a right to maintain a drug- and alcohol- free workplace. The casual use of marijuana shows up in blood tests for as much as a month. Though an employee can claim he or she was unimpaired from marijuana use in the somewhat distant past, a company would have no choice but to discipline or terminate the emloyee who failed a screening.

A job killer

At a time when some industries are already reporting trouble in finding qualified employees because too many applicants fail the drug test, exasperating the situation by legalizing marijuana makes bad economic sense — for industries, companies and families.

Hagan is once again spurring the debate, and it will be interesting to see the response. A recent Saperstein Associates poll of more than 1,000 Ohioans conducted for and reported on by The Dispatch found that legalizing medical marijuana is favored, 63 percent to 37 percent, but making the drug legal for casual use was opposed by a 21-point margin.

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