Pubdate: Thu, 13 Mar 2014
Source: Athens News, The (OH)
Copyright: 2014, Athens News
Author: Matt Lardner
Cited: Ohio Rights Group
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal - Ohio)


At Ohio University's Baker Center Theater Tuesday, a panel discussing
the potential legalization of medical marijuana in Ohio aired opinions
from both sides of the debate.

The Health Promotion department of OU's Campus Involvement Center
presented "The Amazing Blazing Marijuana Debate," a 90-minute
conversation about the merits and problems of medical marijuana.

Even after additional chairs were imported, attendees lined the wings
of the theater, signifying either heavy student extra-credit
involvement or an unanticipated level of interest in the topic.

On the crowd's left was master's student Will Klatt, pro-medical
marijuana, joined by John Pardee and Mary Jane Borden, who both
appeared on behalf of the Ohio Rights Group, a non-profit organization
that advocates for the right to make use of cannabis. The group has
drafted a cannabis rights amendment it hopes to get on the state
ballot this year, which would legalize therapeutic cannabis and
industrial hemp. At least 44 counties need to get signatures from 5
percent of voters, the minimum threshold to add the proposed amendment
as a ballot measure. Four of the state's 88 counties already have the
minimum signatures needed, including Athens and Hocking counties.

Dr. Joe Gay, executive director of Health Recovery Services, and
Reggie Robinson, program manager for Health Recovery Services'
Division of Community Services, sat on the crowd's right. The Division
of Community Services' mission is to "prevent the use of alcohol,
tobacco and other drugs" through programs and advocacy, according to
its website. OU student Shelby Delp also participated, siding against
medicinal legislation.

Terry Koons, OU's associate director of Health Promotion, moderated
the debate. He polled the audience prior to the event, and found very
few attendees showed up with an open mind - the majority of attendees
were equipped with a stance on marijuana legalization.

"We want to make sure it's done safely and responsibly, and we also
think it needs to happen now," said Pardee, president of the Ohio
Rights Group.

Gay said that though some aspects of cannabis may have therapeutic
value, smoking is a wasteful and inefficient method. He also believes
that legalization of medicinal cannabis should not be a ballot measure.

"We don't vote on medicine," Gay said. "We subject it to

Because of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana is still
considered a schedule 1 drug, which restricts academic research of
potential benefits.

"If we were able to have the research on it, we could have a more
informed debate," Delp said.

Prescription drugs such as Marinol and Sativex contain cannabinoids,
but advocates for the medicinal ballot measure don't have much faith
in the FDA to regulate it. Along with balking at the prohibitive costs
of those drugs and ineffectiveness for some patients, they point out
other drugs the FDA has approved that are more dangerous and
addictive, opiates such as Vicodin and Oxycontin. But Robinson, a
recovering addict himself, said that problems with other drugs do not
make cannabis OK to use.

"Bad experiences with opiates do not conflate with marijuana being
safe for voters to approve for medicinal use," Robinson said. "That's
what we're here to talk about, and I don't want to lose sight of that."

Pardee railed against the idea of marijuana as a gateway

"I'm really, frankly, sick and tired of that moniker being used
because it is not indicative of the effects," Pardee said.

Though no one has overdosed on marijuana, Gay and Health Recovery
Services do not believe that makes it harmless. Gay cited a report
that over 461,000 emergency room visits mentioned marijuana use. He
also worries about impaired drivers, a spike in adolescent addiction,
and increased violent crime if medical marijuana is legalized.

"I think our experience here would mirror the experience of several
other states, particularly Colorado and California, where there was an
increase in violence," Gay said.

In Ohio, Borden said there's an economic benefit to potential

"Ohio is the quintessential farming state; it is the quintessential
manufacturing state; and it is the quintessential distribution state,"
said Borden, the Ohio Rights Group treasurer. "We see a very large
future in hemp in Ohio."

Rich Kane, OU's community standards and student responsibility
associate director, also sat on the panel, but was on hand primarily
to answer questions students may have about university policy.

OU treats marijuana possession or use as a Code B offense, the less
serious of two offense tiers and the same tier as alcohol offenses.
Typically, students found using or in possession of marijuana or
marijuana paraphernalia face a $100 fine, a mandatory Health Recovery
Services program that costs $100, two hours of community restitution,
an e-checkup program, and between six and nine months of probation. A
second violation while on probation results in a suspension of at
least one semester.

Students found using other illegal drugs are charged with a Code A
violation, with penalties more severe than marijuana penalties.

Questions from the crowd were all in favor of legalization or
questioning the argument against voting on it. Many made emotional
appeals about how marijuana helped them cope with pain. Pardee asked
the attendees about what side of the debate they were on, which
revealed that most of the audience favored regulated but legal marijuana.

Klatt encouraged passionate students to stay after the panel and
discuss organizing in support of marijuana on campus. The Ohio Rights
Group representatives asked people who are strongly in favor of
legalization to join and mobilize.

"This isn't gonna happen unless you guys step up," Pardee

The other side of the debate held to the belief that voters are not
qualified to decide the medicinal benefits of cannabis, because they
are not experts.

"The ballot box is not the way to do this," Robinson

The campus debate seemed somewhat anachronistic, however, considering
that in many states today, the issue has shifted from legalizing
medicinal marijuana to full legalization of marijuana use by adults,
whether medicinal or recreational. In fact, a recent Quinnipiac
University poll found that Ohioans overwhelmingly support the use of
medical marijuana (87-12 percent).

A much smaller majority of Buckeye voters (51-44 percent) said they
support adult possession of small amount of pot for personal use.
Twice as many registered voters questioned in the poll said they think
alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, and about half said the two
are equally harmful.
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MAP posted-by: Matt