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Legalize medical marijuana in Ohio? Let the debate begin

Published: Mon, January 6, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

The roller-coaster ride of mari- juana use in American culture is speeding up and rounding a corner toward wider acceptance.

As far back as 2900 B.C., when Chinese Emperor Fu Hsi sang the praises of the cannabis plant as a medical elixir that promoted the healthful yin and yang balance in life, marijuana has had more than its fair share of ups and downs in popularity and acceptance among the masses.

It enjoyed relatively strong acceptance as a medicine through the 19th century until some began to question its use for recreation and personal pleasure. A 1936 film that remains among the biggest cult films in history titled “Reefer Madness” intentionally exaggerated potentially ill and mind-altering effects of the drug. Coincidentally or not, a new era of strict marijuna regulation and harsh criminal penalties soon followed.

In the 1930s, states throughout the country adopted harsh laws for marijuana users and sellers, including those that placed possession of the smallest amounts in jail for 10 years and socked them with fines of up to $20,000.

Flash forward to the early 1970s, when Colorado and Ohio became among the first states to severely decriminalize marijuana use. Then turn to today, when 20 states — not including Ohio — have legalized marijuana for medical use. Colorado and Washington state have gone farther yet this year by legalizing pot for recreational use.

If the Ohio Rights Group has its way, the Buckeye State will this year become the newest to legally permit marijuana use for medicinal purposes under highly regulated oversight. The group is collecting the 385,000 signatures it will need to place its proposed constitutional amendment on the state ballot this November.


The proposal would give Ohio residents age 18 and older, who have a debilitating medical condition and meet eligibility requirements, the right to use, possess, acquire and produce cannabis.

It would permit eligible Ohio residents to cultivate hemp for thousands of industrial uses, such as for paper, fuel, foods, building materials, clothing and more. It would also allow taxation on the drug’s commercial trade. Regulating and overseeing all of this would be the Ohio Commission of Cannabis Control.

The Ohio Rights Group recently brought its campaign to the Mahoning Valley where four local families with young children suffering from epileptic seizures urged support for the initiative, arguing their children’s lives would be enhanced via access to the healing qualities they say marijuana produces.

Such emotional appeals will likely grow in intensity as the campaign evolves over the spring, summer and fall. Supporters, however, can also make logical appeals based on a clear evolution of support for their cause in recent decades.

In 1990, for example, an Associated Press poll found that 81 percent of Americans opposed making pot legal. In 2000, a similar AP poll found 61 percent opposing legalization. A Pew Research Poll in April 2013 showed that 77 percent of respondents said they believe marijuana should be legal for legitimate medical uses.

Nonetheless, opponents of such legalization aren’t about to stand still and silent. Foes of the amendment, such as the Drug Free Action Alliance, will advance their arguments that making marijuana legal for medical use would create problems in the workplace and could usher in ill consequences for the state’s young people.

Once supporters gather the requisite number of signatures — and they vow they easily will do so — expect a highly visible and animated debate that will join those surrounding other hot-button statewide issues and races in the critical 2014 General Election. At this early stage, we merely would prescribe healthy doses of honesty, fairness and transparency from both sides of the pot debate.

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