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Ohio's Marijuana Debate at the Cleveland City Club

On Monday, October 5th, we attended a program at the City Club titled "Ohio Ballot Beat: Marijuana Legalization Initiative and Ohio Initiated Monoplies Amendment" in which Mr. Ian James, Executive Director of ResponsibleOhio and Mr. William M. Denihan, Chief Executive Officer of the ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County and a member of Ohioans Against marijuana Monopolies made their respective cases for the passage or defeat of Issues 2 and 3 on the November, 2015 ballot. From past experience and personal private discussions, we realize that any form of marijuana legalization is a very emotional topic so we were glad to see that Mr. James and Mr. Denihan both acted cordially towards each other so we were able to learn something from them both. The program was moderated by Mr. Michael K. McIntyre, Host of WCPN's "Sound of Ideas" and "Plain Dealer" columnist who said that he didn't want a debate as much as he wanted a "conversation of both sides of the issue" and we believe that this was achieved. Mr. James contended that efforts to stop people from smoking marijuana have failed and that Ohioans would benefit from Issue 3 because it provide regulate its use in a responsible fashion. He believed that it was necessary to take the case to the voters because the state legislature has ignored the polls that say that Ohioans favor marijuana legalization. Mr. Denihan countered by contending that medical evidence shows that marijuana is a very dangerous drug (especially if used by young people) and that by legalizing it more people would use it and more lives would be damaged, if not destroyed. He cited a study that showed that since marijuana had been legalized in Colorado, DUI's involving marijuana have radically increased along with school expulsions and the need for medical treatment. He addressed that subject of medical marijuana and said that it needed to be tested and approved by the FDA which it currently is not. Also discussed was Issue 2 which would outlaw monopolies thus nullifying Issue 3 because the latter provides for marijuana to be grown in only ten facilities in Ohio. According to those who support Issue 2 and oppose Issue 3, these ten facilities would be suspiciously owned and operated by the same people who are funding Issue 3. Arguing for Issue 2, Mr. Denihan said that he didn't believe that the constitution of the state and the initiative process should be used to support a small group of people. Mr. James said that Issue 2 was just a way to circumvent the voters' will if they passed Issue #3. Interestingly, after the debate we spoke to Mr. Steven Steinglass (who knows Ms. Margaret W. Wong) who told us that the legislature had been considering an anti-monoply amendment for some time and Issue 3 only motivated them to move quickly on it. From the other perspective, we read in Issue 3's literature that "a study from the conservative RAND corporation found that 10 was the ideal number of licensed marijuana growers for an effectively regulated industry." One of the points that Mr. James emphasized the most was his contention that, as things stand now, a person convicted of possessing a small amount of marijuana could lose, among other things, his/her driver's license along with financial aid (if he/she was a student) and be expelled from public housing if he/she resided there. He then pointed out the majority of people so damaged were people of color. This particularly interested us because we know that a person could also lose his visa and be deported if arrested for being in possession of a small amount of marijuana. We were curious about drug usage among immigrants and ethnic groups, so we asked Mr. Denihan about it during the Q&A. He replied that people who come here from other countries have to have the laws of the United States/Ohio explained thoroughly to them. We also talked to Mr. Jim Joyner, a licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor, about it. Mr. Joyner, who opposes Proposition 3, told us that he believed any population which is under stress is vulnerable to chemical dependency problems and the youth are particularly at risk in this regard. From what he has seen, he thought that we were stretched as it is in terms of having the facilities to provide treatment to those in need, and legalization of marijuana would only compound the problem.