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Ohio Voters Could Legalize Marijuana Before Lawmakers

There are legalization bills in the Ohio Legislature. But voters could bypass reluctant lawmakers and legalize weed

Working Partners

There are marijuana legalization bills in the Ohio Legislature, and they come from both sides of the aisle. But a state ballot initiative could see voters bypass reluctant lawmakers. The people of Ohio could legalize weed for themselves.

“There’s a Republican bill in the House and there’s a Democratic bill in the House. There’s a state ballot initiative,” says State Rep. Terrence Unchurch, who cosponsors the Democratic marijuana legalization bill in the Ohio House.

“There is a yearning for this to happen in the state of Ohio,” Upchurch said, reports WOIO 19 News.

Upchurch says it’s a great opportunity for Ohio. But within that opportunity, the lawmaker says, there’s a threat. That threat is of falling behind, if Ohio doesn’t join the 19 other states currently reaping the benefits of Cannabis legalization.

“What I don’t want to see happen is we begin to lose business, our population continues to decrease, and we lose out on huge economic opportunity because we’re still lagging behind,” Upchurch frets.

Decrim Protects Users, But Doesn’t Regulate Or Tax

Thirty cities in Ohio have taken a step forward by decriminalizing misdemeanor cannabis possession. That means having smaller amounts no longer results in being arrested.

A public policy of decriminalization protects marijuana users, but it doesn’t do anything to regulate quality and safety, or monetize usage of the herb.

Decriminalization is not a new or innovative policy. Twenty-seven other states have done this; the first wave of states to adopt decrim occurred in the 1970s.

The policy initially gained popularity as a way to minimize the negative of marijuana prohibition in the United States. It provided an effective way to do so without touching the legalization issue, which was so controversial 50 years ago as to be a political third rail. I

Decrim became so very popular, in fact, in the 70s, that even Mississippi jumped on the bandwagon. The Magnolia State decriminalized weed possession in 1978.

That was the same year teen pot use peaked in the U.S. Teen rates of marijuana use then defined in the “Just Say No” 1980s. The Eighties was a decade marked by revisionist history being served up wholesale by prohibitionists. This resulted in harshly punitive attitudes towards Cannabis and people who chose to use it.

“It’s really no different than somebody going in a store and buying alcohol and going home and consuming. We’re not saying you can drive,” said Cannabis activist Pricilla Harris, reports 19 News. We are literally saying misdemeanor amounts should not be punished.”

‘Keep That Money Within Our State Of Ohio’

Legalization, in contrast to decrim, would mean both the safety and quality of Cannabis would be regulated. It would also mean tax money from ganja sales could replenish public coffers.

“We would actually be able to benefit our state and keep that money within our state of Ohio and help build schools, roads,” Harris explained.

“It’s clear that over the past budget cycle, there’s been local government cuts in the state,” Rep. Upchurch said. “So this is another way to increase revenue to the city of Cleveland and offset some of those cuts that we’ve seen.”

The Ohio Legislature: Timidity Equals Irrelevance

Still, among lawmakers at the Capitol, enthusiasm for legalization is lukewarm at best, reports WOIO.

But a major signature gathering drive looks to have a solid chance of getting adult-use marijuana legalization on the 2022 ballot. If it does, voters could decide for themselves, cutting timid lawmakers out of the process.

“I’m excited about the ballot initiative,” Rep. Upchurch said. “I think the people will move faster than the legislature”.

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