By Ed Runyan
The Ohio Rights Group has collected about 15 percent of the 385,000 signatures it needs by July 2 to put the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment to the Ohio Constitution on the November ballot.
The group’s president, John Pardee of Amherst, said the “army” of people wanting the medical marijuana amendment to pass “is growing by the day.”
Pardee said that ironically may be the reason why state Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, a longtime proponent of legalizing medical marijuana, has pulled his support for the amendment.
Pardee said he thinks Hagan is looking at legislative options to medical marijuana instead of a constitutional amendment because the Ohio Rights Group has “started making so much noise” with its legalization message that people across the state are “starting to pay attention.”
Hagan has advocated medical marijuana in the past but never got any support, but now things are different because public interest is increasing, in part because of advertisements saying children with epilepsy need marijuana treatment and can’t get it, Pardee said.
“They don’t want to see the people have that kind of power,” Pardee said of Ohioans deciding on whether to legalize medical marijuana rather than government officials.
Hagan said Friday he will partner with Lynn Wachtmann, a Republican state representative from Napoleon, to introduce legislation that would legalize medical marijuana only for children with epilepsy.
Hagan said he’s not in favor of the constitutional amendment approach because “changing the Constitution is a serious issue that has to be vetted,” adding, “It should not be so easy as putting a bowl of soup in a microwave.”
The state-approved ballot language for the constitutional amendment would allow people to use the drug to combat debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, HIV, injury or disease to the spinal cord, severe or chronic pain or other conditions designated by a commission that would be established.
Angela McClellan, director of the Coalition for a Drug-Free Mahoning County, is an opponent of the amendment, partly because of her belief that marijuana is a gateway drug, meaning it leads to use of more-dangerous drugs.
“The data tells us that most people with substance-abuse issues have already used marijuana during their journey to full-blown substance abuse, that marijuana is a step in the process of developing substance-abuse issues,” she said.
McClellan said she would support giving a liquid derived from marijuana to people with epilepsy if it decreases seizure activity.
“But where is the research? And is it safe?” McClellan said.
“If it has medical properties, why not run it through the Food and Drug Administration?” she asked.
Pardee said he doesn’t believe marijuana is the gateway drug some people allege and that prescription-drug abuse may be a more-important precursor to abuse of opiates such as heroin.
Marijuana can, in fact, be used as a “step-down drug” to help people trying to kick a heroin addiction, Pardee said, adding that marijuana is less addictive than coffee, alcohol or cigarettes.
Pardee said the amendment would end discrimination against marijuana users.
For example, it would prevent law enforcement from using a blood test to determine whether a person was driving while intoxicated on marijuana, Pardee said.
A blood test for marijuana is unfair because the active ingredient in marijuana remains in the bloodstream for weeks, compared to hours for alcohol, he said.
McClellan said that part of the amendment would “open Pandora’s box” because the rights of the marijuana user would be protected, but the rights of the rest of society would not.
“Under the amendment, if someone causes an accident, they cannot be tested for intoxication by marijuana,” McClellan said.