Pubdate: Sun, 17 May 2015
Source: Dayton Daily News (OH)
Copyright: 2015 Dayton Daily News
Authors: Laura A. Bischoff and Chris Stewart


As Likely Vote Nears in Ohio, Support Comes From Unlikely Places.

COLUMBUS - No matter what happens to a proposed constitutional 
amendment to make marijuana legal in Ohio, polls show a growing 
acceptance for legalization in this country - including a majority 
who think recreational use of marijuana should be legal.

And the support is coming from unlikely corners. Hamilton County 
Prosecutor Joe Deters is a law-and-order Republican who has spent 
most of his career putting away bad guys in Ohio's third-largest 
county. But Deters, who announced last week that he'll head up a 
10-person task force to look at the impact of legalization, is 
rethinking whether going after marijuana users is worth the public expense.

"I think that most of our marijuana laws are an incredible waste of 
resources," said Deters. The drug is easily obtained on the street, 
but users don't have the benefit of knowing exactly what's in it and 
the community doesn't benefit from the untaxed sales, he said.

Deters acknowledged that his fellow prosecutors may not share his 
views, but there is little doubt public opinion is moving toward his position.

Gallup has been polling Americans on marijuana legalization since 
1969, when 12 percent thought it was a good idea. Just a few years 
ago, support for legalization inched across the 50 percent line, 
according to Gallup.

When people are asked about medical marijuana, their support 
increases dramatically.

A Quinnipiac University poll in April found 84 percent of Ohioans say 
they support allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical 
purposes if a doctor prescribes it. The same poll found 52 percent 
support allowing adults to legally use small amounts for recreational use.

The proposed constitutional amendment would legalize marijuana for 
both recreational and medical use under certain conditions.

Deters says his experience as a prosecutor has led him to his changed views.

"I'm probably on the fringe, but I've been doing this for 33 years 
and I've seen how it unfairly impacts minorities," he said. "It's a 
low-level intoxicant compared to even alcohol and I just think we 
need to get in front of this, in front of what's coming to Ohio."

Robert Ryan, the Ohio president for the National Organization for the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), recalls a meeting two years ago 
when Deters was peppered with questions from "crusty old businessmen" 
about the legalization of pot.

"He kind of danced around it, but at the time he said he was willing 
to talk about it," Ryan said. "Now, he's actually willing to say it."

Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck said through a spokesman that 
he thinks marijuana legalization should be carefully reviewed. "Then 
after a thorough review is completed and the details have been 
provided, the voters will decide if they feel this proposal is 
appropriate for Ohio," he said.

Experts agree that Ohio spends millions of dollars enforcing 
marijuana laws, but no central clearinghouse keeps track.

"What we know anecdotally is, we're spending millions and we know the 
federal government is spending millions," said Ohio Public Defender 
Tim Young, who favors legalizing marijuana through legislation. Young 
argues that pot smokers typically do not get involved in crimes such 
as gun violence or burglary yet pay a huge price when they are 
arrested, which often includes the loss of their driver's license, 
which then affects whether they can go to school.

"It's devastating in terms of the consequences that are attached to 
this compared to what the public believes the harm is," he said.

Some in law enforcement caution against assuming marijuana is 
harmless, noting that violence is often associated with dealing in an 
unregulated black market.

"We have people who are shot and are killed in marijuana transactions 
or drug ripoffs of those who traffic it because people know they have 
money," said Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl. "So we know the 
illegal market produces harm of that nature."

While some form of legalization might negate that violence, society 
will still have to deal with another set of potential problems, Biehl said.

"It doesn't come without public health consequences; it doesn't come 
without public safety consequences," he said. "What does one mean by 
legalization in terms of specifics? What is the level of social 
control? Like with tobacco, that's a legal substance and there's 
social regulation, community regulation of that. Without that refined 
detail, I think that anyone who offers an opinion will probably miss the mark."

Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction 
and Mental Health Services Board for Montgomery County, said the 
board responsible for funding and planning addiction services in the 
county is not necessarily opposed to medical use of marijuana if it 
is approved and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration like 
other prescription drugs.

But Jones-Kelley is deadset against legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

"If we had to grapple with legalization of tobacco today, we would 
oppose that because now we know what happens," she said. "It's the 
same difference."

The pot amendment as written would benefit "a small group of people 
financially but will devastate the community," according to 
Jones-Kelley. "That's really troubling to us here because we will 
have the responsibility for helping pick up the pieces."

Unique perspective

Brice Keller routinely took rocket fire in Iraq while guarding the 
gate to an Air Force base in Kirkuk. Later, as an investigator and 
police officer in Indiana, he fought in the "war on drugs," sometimes 
making undercover buys. His military and police experiences give him 
a unique perspective, Keller said. He admits to daily use of 
marijuana to help alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress 
syndrome. In his current profession as a criminal defense attorney, 
he sometimes represents clients facing pot possession charges.

"We're not supposed to have a class of criminals because they choose 
to medicate in a certain way, or use this plant in a certain way," he 
said. "It's just wrong."

As a police officer, Keller abused both alcohol and cigarettes and 
said he was "running 100 miles an hour all the time."

"I realized I'd get anxiety and all these other things that were 
related to PTSD and it would just build up," he said. "When you can 
smoke some marijuana you can calm down and get an appropriate amount 
of sleep and reduce urges toward heavy drinking or reduce urges to 
smoke cigarettes constantly."

Keller is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of 
current and past police officers and criminal justice professionals 
who believe the "war on drugs" has largely been a failure and a 
government system of regulation and control would be more effective.

"In general, the idea is if we take drug abuse to be a civil problem 
instead of a criminal problem, then it renews trust and faith in the 
police," Keller said.

One of the arguments advanced by those who favor legalization is that 
it would free up police to focus more on serious crime.

Law enforcement posts high conviction rates on marijuana cases 
because they tend to be easy cases, said NORML's Ryan.

"People tend to do things that are easy," he said. "Solving a murder 
case is not easy. Solving a rape case is not easy."

Data from the Ohio Highway Patrol shows a dramatic increase in pot 
cases in recent years. The patrol had 44 marijuana trafficking cases 
in 2014, quadruple the number from seven years earlier. And patrol 
citations for marijuana possession hit 5,969 in 2014, up from 2,081 in 2009.

The Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation in the 
attorney general's office typically seizes 46,664 plants a year 
through its marijuana eradication program.

Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer said enforcing current minor 
possession pot laws doesn't place any extra financial burden on the 
county because those citations are treated more like traffic tickets 
and no one is being transported or booked into jail. He's against 
legalizing pot for recreational use because he thinks it will 
increase the workload of his staff.

"If it becomes legal, we'll be arresting more people for OVI and 
handling more traffic crashes," said Plummer, who is also against 
legalization because he believes marijuana use leads to abuse of other drugs.

"I think it's a gateway drug. I don't think it's good to make it 
available to the children of our community and it's a huge public 
safety issue," Plummer said.

Lawmakers oppose ballot issue

Ohioans are expected to vote in November on whether to flip from a 
ban on pot to legalizing it for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

ResponsibleOhio, which is backed by deeppocketed investors and 
experienced political consultants, is proposing a constitutional 
amendment to designate 10 sites its investors control as properties 
where marijuana can be legally manufactured. The campaign also wants 
to create an Ohio Marijuana Control Commission, allow adults 21 and 
older to home grow up to four plants, establish six testing centers 
to ensure quality and safety, and give local voters approval power 
over whether retail shops are allowed in their neighborhoods.

The campaign reported that it has already collected 320,000 
signatures to place the question on the ballot. ResponsibleOhio needs 
to submit 305,591 valid signatures from registered voters by July 1 
and then the campaign is expected to spend roughly $25 million to 
convince voters to say yes.

Opposing the issue are anti-drug groups and statewide officeholders, 
including Gov. John Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary 
of State Jon Husted, Auditor Dave Yost, Treasurer Josh Mandel, and 
key legislative leaders including House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, 
R-Clarksville, and Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina.

Some state leaders vehemently object to carving commercial 
oligarchies into the state constitution, having already seen that 
happen with two companies naming four casino sites in the constitution.

State Rep. Mike Curtin, D-Marble Cliff, the former editor and 
associate publisher of the Columbus Dispatch, opposes legalizing 
marijuana and particularly opposes doing so via the Ohio Constitution.

"This issue is about the granting of a monopoly right in the Ohio 
Constitution. This issue is about prostituting the Ohio Constitution 
for personal financial enrichment," Curtin wrote to his colleagues 
last week. "I plan to play a very active role in the campaign to 
defeat this proposal and I hope you will join that effort."

Yost is calling on lawmakers to put a constitutional amendment on the 
fall ballot that would prohibit business interests from carving out 
monopolies or oligarchies via the state constitution. And Husted last 
week urged lawmakers to step in and consider a thoughtful way forward.

"The constitution shouldn't be somebody's paycheck," Yost testified.

Young, who favors legalization, agrees with Curtin and Yost that 
amending the constitution isn't the way to go about it. It's easier 
to tweak or change state law, he said. "Absolutely, it should be 
legalized, but it should be done at the legislative level. Much the 
same way I say gambling should have been handled."

But Lydia Bolander, spokesperson for ResponsibleOhio, said Ohio 
lawmakers have failed to act on marijuana legalization since it was 
first introduced 18 years ago and they're out of step with Ohioans' views.

"In passing a constitutional amendment, voters are taking part in 
direct democracy, which is exactly why such a process exists," she 
said. "When the legislature fails to act, the people have a right to 
come together and take action."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom