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Will Marijuana Legalization Ballot Issue Affect Crime?

Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment to make marijuana legal in Ohio say doing so will make Ohioans safer. But opponents of that plan say it will do the opposite. In the second of her five part series on Issue 3, Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles looks at whether its passage will really cut down on crime.  

Retired Cincinnati Police Captain Howard Rahtz stands in front of a police car as he urges Ohioans to say yes to legalizing marijuana in this new spot being aired on television stations statewide.

“I saw first-hand on the effects of Ohio’s destructive marijuana laws. Simply put, they don’t work,” Rahtz says in part of the ad.

ResponsibleOhio says allowing ten growing sites, more than 1100 retail sales and limited home growing, all subject to clear rules, would put criminals who sell pot out of business. But the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police disagrees. So have the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association, the Ohio Chiefs of Police Association and the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys’ Association. Those organizations are endorsing the opposition effort.  Curt Steiner is heading up that group called Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies.

“Basically every Ohio couple can have more than a pound of dope in their house legally I guarantee some of that will be sold to people on the black market,” Steiner says.

When asked about that, ResponsibleOhio’s Executive Director Ian James fires back.

“I really like Curt a lot but unfortunately, he is the Ron Burgundy of campaigns. You write a line on a $1 bill and he’s going to say it,” James says.

James says there are rules for the home growing part of the plan. But he says it’s important to remember there are Ohioans who are illegally growing pot for personal use now. He says Issue 3 would simply give them an avenue to buy a license to make it legal. James says there wouldn’t be home inspections but growers could face losing their licenses if they are found to be breaking the law. And he thinks that’s enough incentive to get most growers, both home and those with the ten specified large growing facilities, to obey the law. Recently, a group that monitors drug trafficking for the Office of National Drug Control Policy released a report on marijuana legalization in Colorado. It shows increases in drug trafficking arrests, marijuana related traffic deaths and marijuana use by children. But James says fatalities are down in Colorado. He cites federal figures that show there is no increased crash risk associated with testing positive for marijuana and says the Colorado Healthy Kids Survey shows marijuana use among kids has actually gone down since legalization. Ben Markus, a reporter from Colorado Public Radio, says legalizing pot for both medicinal and personal use in that state hasn’t caused a spike in crime.

“The sky has not fallen. There is not rampant crime open in the streets. Our departments are not overworked. If anything, it has taken some burden away from them, right, to not have to prosecute offenses if somebody carries an ounce or less of marijuana on their person,” Markus says.

Some activists who have tried to get Ohio lawmakers to allow medicinal marijuana are not happy about this plan because they fear it would not do enough to help some Ohioans. Tonya Davis says she takes offense to the fact that pot, under this proposal, would be regulated like alcohol…and wouldn’t be available to Ohioans who are under 21 years old. Davis says people who are 18 and up should be allowed to possess and use pot legally if this measure passes.

“If they are old enough to die for our country and fight for our country, they should be old enough to make that choice, a safer choice than what they are making now which is alcohol and pills and heroin and methamphetamine and all of those other choices that they are making,” Davis says.

Davis notes college students often use marijuana. And sometimes they get caught. Marijuana convictions can haunt them for the rest of their lives. ResponsibleOhio Director James says that’s why his group has been collecting petition signatures to put another plan on the ballot next fall if this issue passes this November.

“Well, ReponsibleOHio is working on a Fresh Start Act which allows people to seek expungement for marijuana related activities that will no longer be criminal offenses,” James says.

But if Ohioans approve this plan this fall and college aged kids under 21 years old are caught using or growing pot in the future under this new law, their convictions would still stand.

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