Let’s get to the point — and roll another joint — Tom Petty, You Don’t Know How It Feels
We’ve done it before with airplanes, car starters, cash registers — and the first man on the moon — and now Ohio is on the verge of, once again, making history. This potential accomplishment has pumped millions of pre-election dollars into the state and has a nation watching to see how we handle Issue 3.
If Issue 3 passes on Tuesday, Nov. 3 Ohio will become the first state to legalize recreational and medical marijuana in one felled swoop. With such a potentially historical moment, as a voter, I decided it was time I read up on Colorado’s marijuana legalization — especially since everyone was calling it a success.
- Marijuana is at least a $700 million dollar industry for Colorado
- The housing market is up by 10 percent
- Commercial buildings are selling like hot cakes
- Even small ‘mom-and-pop’ businesses are booming
- Tourism is up
- It did not lead to ‘everyone‘ smoking pot. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper who opposed the legislation admitted, “The people who used to be smoking it are still smoking it. They’re now just paying taxes. The people who didn’t smoke it still aren’t. We haven’t seen a spike.”
- It generates at least $40 million annually in taxes
- I even learned that, at least for college students, sex is more likely on days marijuana is smoked.
With the wave of positive news coming out of Colorado it seems we should all follow Tom Petty’s advice and ‘roll another joint’ — after all, what’s the downside?
Prevalent At High School
Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I was exposed to marijuana mostly through school and television. On almost any school day, someone was smoking weed in the alley across from our high school. During my sophomore year when a substitute Industrial Arts teacher was improperly using a table saw — filling the wood shop area with smoke — several upper classmen seized the opportunity and smoke a joint in class.
When situations prevented smoking weed, industrious classmates baked marijuana brownies instead — a method still used today. In many ways, today’s generation is similar to mine with regards to marijuana because, statistically, the number of people who tried marijuana is nearly the same (33% vs. 38%).
Musicians Embrace It
Despite graduating with a class of partiers, my education about marijuana was delivered mostly through music because it seemed all the cool singers were smoking it — including some who wrote songs to the contrary.
In 1969 Merle Haggard sang “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee,” although he had no aversion to smoking it. Bob Dylan didn’t try to hide his support of weed — singing “everybody must get stoned.” Neither did Charlie Daniels, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., Black Sabbath, John Denver, Boston — the list goes on and on. Music and marijuana have been intertwined for decades. The first known recorded song about marijuana to reach a mass audience was recorded in 1929 by Louis Armstrong. And in the 1970s, marijuana references were prevalent in Top 40 music despite the establishment’s dislike of the drug. In fact, just one week after Vice President Spiro T. Agnew publicly declared “One Toke Over the Line, Sweet Jesus” subversive, Brewer & Shipley performed the song on The Lawrence Welk Show.
Of the list of musicians who had a hit song with marijuana references Charlie Daniels is possibly the only one to reverse his position over the years. Never afraid to speak his mind, Daniels eventually quit singing the lines (I get stoned in the morning…I will take another toke) when performing his 1974 hit song Long Haired Country Boy. Daniels went on to write in his 1990 hit Simple Man,
If I had my way with people selling dope/I’d take a big, tall tree and a short piece of rope/I’d hang ’em up high and let ’em swing ’til the sun goes down.
But I Was Told It’s Bad For You
When I was in fifth grade a police officer visited my school and spoke about the dangers of marijuana (in the era before this is your brain on drugs). At the end of his presentation, the officer lit a substance — presumably marijuana — so all the grade school children could recognize the aroma. (Later in life I would listen as another police officer told me — with a straight face — that as an undercover cop he learned to smoke weed without inhaling or getting high which sounded a lot like something a president once said.)
Politicians Fumble With It
Today, many politicians are taking a “the people have spoken” approach to marijuana. Although not a scientist, President Barack Obama, casually stated in an interview that ‘marijuana is as safe as alcohol.’ GOP candidates like Jeb Bush admit to smoking pot, but don’t support legalizing it, whereas Libertarian-leaning Republicans like Rand Paul believe the government needs to get out of the way. Democrat Socialist Bernie Sanders says its time to legalize marijuana citing our overcrowded jails as proof while Hillary Clinton believes it should be decided at the state — and not the federal — level. Depending on the day of the week, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump is either for or against legalizing it. (You can read the positions of all the presidential candidates on Marijuana.com.)
Reporting On It
When I first entered the field of journalism, the weekly paper I worked for had just started reporting on a large marijuana drug bust involving more than 30 individuals and three local bars. As I followed the cases through the court system, I saw firsthand how disproportional the sentences were with regard to the crime since many of the defendants had simply smoked a joint and had no previous criminal records. Despite their minor infractions many of these individuals were looking at years of probation/incarceration. It was at this time, I developed the opinion (which I still hold) that the punishment needed to be significantly reduced.
As the 30 cases progressed through the system, two of the bar owners telephoned me to ‘tell me off’ since their establishments were mentioned over the course of several articles. At first I was somewhat empathetic to the bar owners’ plight, but that change a few years later when I interviewed a music group inside one of the bars. The band, which said it played High Energy Music Personified, passed around a joint as I interviewed them and offered me a hit (which I declined). To the band’s chagrin I did not described their music as High Energy Music Personified in the article because as pot smokers they should have known that hemp does not contain enough tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to get anyone high. Hemp is mainly used for clothes or ropes — besides their acronym was corny.
Why I Can’t Support Ohio’s Issue 3
Although the tide of public opinion has swayed in favor of legalizing marijuana during my lifetime, I just can’t get behind it for several reasons:
- Colorado’s Success: The jury is still out on whether marijuana will be a long-term or short-term economic boom. One question being pondered is whether the product can keep the state’s economy growing once the support systems for the marijuana industry are in place. Some of the factors currently growing the state’s economy have a relatively short shelf life. Factors like:
- The housing market — at some point all who want to be there will be there and if more states legalize marijuana, the influx of new citizens will diminish.
- Demand for ancillary businesses — like HVAC and security firms — will lessen as the infrastructure reaches its saturation point.
- New Infractions: A lot of attention has been given to the decrease in marijuana-related arrests in Colorado, but one issue that receives less attention is what neighboring states are dealing with — an increase of Driving While High infractions. And inside Colorado, one marijuana-related law has seen a spike in arrests because of a misconception about the public consumption of pot. Under Colorado law consumption of marijuana is only permitted in a private residence. This misunderstanding has led to a quadrupling of public consumption arrests.
- Limited Market: If it’s all about the economy, another problem I have is the potential for growth. As mentioned earlier, in Colorado there was not a wave of new customers when the law was enacted. In fact, proponents presumed (before passage) that medical marijuana users would transition to recreational users — creating a spike in state tax income. It did not happened.
- Who’s Behind It: When you look at the list of investors behind Responsible Ohio it is profit, not individual rights, that is the overwhelming motive behind Issue 3. As 420 Magazine reported, Despite their widely varied backgrounds, investors in the for-profit Responsible Ohio marijuana-legalization plan have something in common: They all want to make money, and lots of it. When people are viewed as consumers and not citizens, exploitation becomes a very viable possibility.
- Creates an Oligarchy: As Issue 3 is currently written for Ohio, if passed the marijuana would be raised on 10 state-sanctioned farms. At the very least, this is not inline with a capitalistic economy. This 10-farm approach effectively cuts out smaller businesses and unfairly gives the marijuana market to a select few. Even in Colorado only a handful are getting rich.
- Doesn’t Remove The Black Market: One argument often used by proponents of legalization is by regulating marijuana the supply is monitored and thereby safer. However, as Colorado is proving, the black market is still thriving, due in large part to the fact that marijuana is taxed three times in the state. In Colorado marijuana is taxed when it is produced, when it is sold by growers to retailers and lastly, when a customer purchases the product. It is taxed heavily because the legislation promised voters $40 million annually would “go toward school construction across the state.” In Ohio, marijuana would be taxed at 15 percent.
- Medical Marijuana Is A Smokescreen: As we close in on Election Day, more TV ads are running about a young girl who suffers seizures — an ailment solved by medical marijuana. The ad title — Bring Addy home — is obviously designed to appeal to a person’s compassion, but is Addy a true representation of the average medical marijuana user. Not really. According to a study by the University of Michigan, the average medical marijuana user is a 41-year-old man who has definitely smoke weed before and “probably consumed other drugs” as well. This average male user smokes for pain relief. Of course, it’s hard to build an ad campaign around that when a myriad of pain-reducing medications are already on the market.
- Ohio Already Has A Drug Problem: While the debate raging on whether marijuana is addictive (some studies suggest 10 percent of users will become addicted) Ohio is already dealing with significant heroin problem that is claiming lives — including a 18-year-old southwest Ohio woman who had recently undergone treatment for marijuana and alcohol abuse. It seems more advantageous as a society to clean up Ohio’s heroin epidemic before adding a new legal drug to the mix.
- Teen Use: This is the major reason I cannot endorse marijuana use because of the perception given to teens over the past decade that marijuana is safe. This widely held belief has driven up the percentage of teen users and between 1992 and 1999 marijuana use among teens doubled. Today 36 percent of high school seniors have smoked pot and marijuana is more popular than cigarettes.
- Dumbing It Down: Although teen marijuana usage may — or may not — increase after legalization, studies show marijuana can lower a person’s IQ. In a New Zealand study, participants who began smoking marijuana early in life (before 18) and used it regularly saw a drop in IQ by as much as 8 points by age 38. No study has ever proven marijuana increases IQ levels.
- It’s Not Your Daddy’s Pot: The pot of my generation is not the same marijuana as today because the potency of marijuana was significantly lower in the 1970s and 80s. The percentage of THC in marijuana in the 80s was around three percent. Today’s marijuana is more refined and is often a blend of the two main marijuana plants: Cannabis indica and Cannibas sativa. This blend has raised the average THC level to nearly 10 percent. No long-term studies on the health impact of continued use of higher-potency marijuana exist.
- It’s A Constitution: One final reason I cannot support Issue 3 is the ballot methodology being used. In this regard I agree with the Ohio Women League of Voters: a state’s constitution should not be amended simply to enact a new law. A constitution is designed to create the overall framework of a government and is not the proper vehicle to implement legislative changes.
Living inside a Congressional district plagued with a 20-percent poverty rate, significant job loss due to the economy and trade agreements, meth labs, heroin-related deaths, a readily available supply of marijuana (especially at the high school level), a plethora of empty and/or abandoned buildings — and inside a state where Walmart is the largest employer — I am highly skeptical that the marijuana industry will create enough livable-wage jobs to bring long-term economic growth to the state.
- To learn the pros and cons of all three Issues on Ohio’s Nov. 3 ballot read the annual League of Women Voters Guide. Although it is not always the case, my vote will mirror theirs:
- Issue 1- Yes (I’m tired of the gerrymandering)
- Issue 2 – Yes (To protect the overall design of the state constitution)
- Issue-3: No (12 reasons listed above)
My only deviation from the League of Women Voters’ opinion is, unlike them, I am not neutral on the marijuana question. I’m not convinced legalization brings anything of value to the table.