SIDNEY — Ohio voters will get to decide this November whether to legalize marijuana.
It’s evident as Election Day gets closer that local, regional and state organizations and entities are very opposed to Issue 3.
But growing support for marijuana legalization in general is on the rise.
Fervor on both sides of the issue is getting attention on a daily basis as ResponsibleOhio, the group behind the issue, seeks support to amend the Ohio Constitution to make pot for medical and personal use perfectly lawful for people ages 21 and older.
If embraced at the polls, the Columbus-based PAC would open five testing and research facilities near colleges and universities across the state as well as 10 wholesale growing sites.
The closest site to Shelby County would be either in Delaware County or Butler County.
Issue 2 is also on the ballot and is a referendum that the Ohio General Assembly put on the ballot as a direct response to ResponsibleOhio.
Issue 2 would lay down a specific ban, prohibiting “any proposed constitutional amendment appearing on the Nov. 3, 2015, general election ballot that creates a monopoly, oligopoly or cartel for the sale, distribution, or other use of any federal Schedule I controlled substance.”
If somehow both issues pass, the Ohio Constitution says the one with the most “yes” votes wins.
It’s not completely surprising that health and safety officials wouldn’t support the legalization of marijuana with health and safety the main part of the discussion. The local entities in Shelby County have cited many different reasons why they do not want the issue to pass.
The Sidney Police Department stands with many other law enforcement organizations in opposition of Issue 3, Sidney Police Chief William Balling said in a statement.
“The Sidney Police Department believes the passing of Issue 3 will be a detriment to Ohio’s communities directly impacting children and adults alike. Our communities will see an increase in the number of driving under the influence of marijuana cases resulting in serious accidents and fatal crashes; increased problems with drugs in the workplace; increased need for drug-treatment programs; retailers in close proximity to schools; easy access for children to marijuana-infused candies and baked goods; and possession-enforcement issues,” he said.
He continued on to say that other states where marijuana is legalized, specifically Colorado and Washington, have seen a significant increase in the number of marijuana-influenced traffic incidents and fatalities. The Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police released its formal stance on Issue 3 last weekend. The group included in its stance that crime in Denver has increased 12.8 percent and Colorado had 374,000 emergency room visits solely due to marijuana.
Balling said both of these are very good reasons why not to support Issue 3. “We do not want to see Ohio and Sidney become part of the statistics,” he said.
The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and Auglaize County Sheriff’s Office stand with the Board of Directors of the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association with their opposition to Issue 3.
The board of directors felt strongly that the legalization of marijuana, “will cause more issues for our youth and law enforcement. The association remains committed to the youth of our state by supporting the DARE Program and SRO officers.”
In its statement, the b0ard cites very specific statistics regarding Colorado after marijuana became legalized there and general facts about the impairment marijuana causes while driving.
The board said, “It is our belief that Ohio’s businesses need to offer a safe work environment while remaining competitive in the work force. Society is not immune to the social ills that follow destructive behavior.”
In a meeting on Sept. 24, the Shelby County Commissioners passed a resolution declaring opposition to Issue 3. In their position, they said the legalizing of marijuana for medical use should not be decided by voter initiative but be subject to the same research, consideration and study as any other potential medicine under the standards of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
They also said:
• Legalization will adversely affect Shelby County workplaces and burden our small businesses.
• Legalization will amend the state constitution and grant ResponsibleOhio, a small group of wealthy investors, the exclusive right to commercially grow, manufacture and sell marijuana and marijuana-infused edibles, and in so doing create a monopoly within the Ohio Constitution establishing a legal cartel.
• Children will have to contend with increased drug exposure and the consequences thereof that marijuana legalization would bring to Shelby County.
In the conclusion of their statement, they said, “It is bad for our children, schools and businesses. We encourage our residents to consider whether or not our state constitution should be used to ensure the financial gain of a select few. Shelby County deserves better!”
At its Sept. 16 meeting, the Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services, which encompasses Miami, Darke and Shelby counties, formally adopted a position statement opposing efforts.
The full text of the position statement is:
“The Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services opposes the legalization and commercialization of marijuana for recreational purposes. The board also opposes the constitutional amendment process for the purpose of legalizing the personal use of marijuana, designation of growth sites, and designation of testing facilities.
“Legalizing marijuana for medical use should not be decided by legislative or voter initiative. Marijuana should be subject to the same research, consideration, and study as any other potential medicine, under the standards of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”
Even though groups all around the state of Ohio continue to come out in opposition, support for marijuana legalization in general “is rapidly outpacing opposition,” the nonpartisan fact tank Pew Research reported earlier this year.
Its public opinion polls found 53 percent of Americans favor decriminalizing pot — a drastic change since 1969, when Gallup found just 12 percent supported legalization.
Among Millennials, support is at 63 percent. The numbers show age is a huge factor in opinions on legalization, with only 29 percent of the Silent Generation (ages 70 to 87) in favor.
Political alignment also comes into play.
Among Democrats, 59 percent are pro-legalization compared to just 39 percent of Republicans.
Those who say pot should remain illegal say it is harmful to both society and individuals (43 percent), is addictive (30 percent), needs to be policed (19 percent), is a gateway drug (11 percent), and is bad for young people (8 percent), according to Pew.
A bare majority of Ohio voters backs legal recreational cannabis, but 84 percent in the state support allowing medical marijuana, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll.
Those numbers were released in April as part of polling in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. All are swing states.
John Pardee, of Oberlin, Ohio, is a member of the Ohio Rights Group board. The nonprofit tried for three years to get a pot legalization measure on the ballot.
While ORG has yet to take a public stance on Issue 3, but a solid “no” stance on Issue 2, Pardee said he is personally a fan.
At one time an opponent of the ResponsibleOhio effort, his conversion came from talking to a friend with multiple sclerosis.
“She has suffered mightily. People who want recreational cannabis in Ohio already have it. Those who need medical cannabis are the ones hurt most by prohibition,” he said.
Pardee’s father died in December 2013 of complications related to Parkinson’s disease. When offered treatment with low-grade cannabis, his father refused because he’d heard all his life how dangerous marijuana is, Pardee said.
His son has also legally grown medical-grade strains in California for therapeutic use related to reconstructive pelvic surgery.
Those personal connections have convinced Pardee the benefits of legalization outweigh the drawbacks.
“Knowing how tough this process is and that the opportunity is here in 2015, I couldn’t in good conscience sit here and tell people to vote no on Issue 3 just because there’s a part of the business model that some people find objectionable,” he said.
ResponsibleOhio spokeswoman Faith Oltman expects a surge of buyers to visit Ohio from surrounding states should Issue 3 pass.
While the closest state to allow pot sales for personal use is Colorado, the constitutional amendment would make Ohio the 24th state in the union to legalize marijuana for medical use.
Washington, Oregon and Alaska are the only others where it can be used recreationally.
“This is the first time both (kinds of uses) have been on the ballot as one piece,” Oltman said. “All of the other states did medical first.”
Abuse of marijuana was found to be far more rampant in states where it is only allowed by prescription, according to a ResponsibleOhio study, she said.
To regulate use and update laws about abuse, Issue 3 would:
• Allow marijuana use only by people ages 21 and older.
• Require state licenses to grow up to four flowering marijuana plants at home.
• Allow possession of only one ounce of marijuana at a time.
• Prohibit the sale of home-grown marijuana by residents.
“You can’t use it in a public place,” Oltman said. “You have to be in a private place.”
It is illegal to operate a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana and anyone doing so will be subject to the same rules and regulations that are currently in effect regarding operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.
“I think you just have to look at it that and know we have done our research and looked at other states that have legalized marijuana, and we’ve done what’s best for Ohio,” Green Rush Bus tour spokesperson Haley Phillippi said at a stop in Sidney last month.
“Our opposition is worried about kids and so are we. Our amendment has strict penalties for anyone who tries to sell to somebody under the age of 21. And all our edibles will have child-proof packaging and things like that,” Phillippi said.
She said that if educated on the subject, there would be more people in support.
“I think there are a lot of things that people are skeptical about, but if you just take the time to educate yourself you’ll see that this is really good for our state and that people really want to legalize marijuana,” Phillippi said.
The entire amendment can be read at http://yeson3ohio.com/the-amendment/.
Reach this writer at 937-538-4825; follow on Twitter @SDNAlexandraN