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Prosecutors urge Ohioans to reject Issue 2 for reasons that supporters say are "out of touch"

Signs for and against Ohio’s Issue 2, which would legalize recreational marijuana use if passed, are displayed in Central Ohio in this collage.
Daniel Konik
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Signs for and against Ohio’s Issue 2, which would legalize recreational marijuana use if passed, are displayed in Central Ohio in this collage.

Opponents of Issue 2, the proposal that would legalize and tax marijuana use and sale for Ohioans over 21, say there are many problems with the proposal voters will decide Tuesday. But supporters of the initiated statute characterize the prosecutor’s concerns as “scare tactics.”

The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association said Issue 2 will hurt kids and communities. And they say enforcement limits baked into it will make it harder to enforce driving laws.

Ashland County Prosecutor Christopher Tunnell also added that because legal pot will be sold at costs high enough to compensate for overhead and taxes, drug dealers won’t be deterred from selling illegal marijuana.

“The key reason, in my opinion, that this isn’t going to stop who we’ll call Joe the Weed Man, from selling out of his house is that he’s going to be less expensive than these people. These people have overhead. These people have to make a profit. And then they’ve promised big money in taxes so that everybody makes sure they go and vote for this money-making scheme,” Tunnel said.

According to a report from Rutgers University’s Center for Alcohol and Substance Use Studies, California’s police confiscations of illegal marijuana have continued since it legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 and arrests for illegal marijuana have actually increased.

If Issue 2 passes in Ohio, there would be a 10% tax on marijuana sold in addition to local sales taxes. A recent Ohio State University study estimated Issue 2 could generate as much as $218 million in marijuana taxes in its first year. That money, according to the statute, would go to a social equity and jobs fund, addiction services, regulating the industry and to communities that have dispensaries.

That’s another part of the plan Tunnell doesn’t like. He said big cities with "left leaning" politics will have dispensaries and will get money while red counties, like his, that don’t have dispensaries won’t benefit from tax dollars.

Gallia County Prosecutor Jason Holdren said counties already have problems with people addicted to drugs and he said this will make those situations worse. And he said children services agencies, which are already stretched for resources, will be dealing with more stress.

“To stay with 'Joe the Weed Man', if he is selling out of his house and he’s got kids, children services are getting involved and they are making referrals for the parents,” Holdren said.

Wood County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Dobson said there could be an increase in traffic crashes. And he said the limits that are written into this proposed law when it comes to enforcement will make it hard to go after drivers who are high on marijuana.

“We would be limited in the kinds of evidence that we would be able to use merely by a statute that says, ‘This is the way you can investigate a case. You can’t bring all of the evidence you can muster in a case. You can only bring the evidence we say is okay.’” Dobson said.

Issue 2 backers: these are "scare tactics"

Tom Haren, a spokesman for the Committee to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the group sponsoring the proposed statute, characterized the complaints of prosecuting attorneys as “scare tactics.”

“They are just out of touch with Ohio voters,” Haren said.

Haren said many Ohioans are already getting marijuana from out of state - one in particular.

“Michigan’s legal industry has proven very effective at putting the illicit market out of business," Haren said.

“And obviously there is no question that the regulated market is much better in terms of reliability and safety because the products are tested more than once before they ever hit the shelves at a dispensary so consumers know exactly what it is they are buying and they have confidence that products are not contaminated with heavy metals and more elicit substances like fentynal that you see in the illicit market,” Haren said.

Haren said Issue 2 will also help Ohioans who have illnesses but are not eligible for the state’s medical marijuana program. Haren said money from the sales of legal marijuana will help communities with dispensaries but will also help the state as a whole, since the proceeds will create that social equity and jobs fund, as well as provide dollars for addiction services and pay for the cost of overseeing and regulating the industry.

If Ohioans pass Issue 2, Ohio lawmakers could change it

Because Issue 2 is an initiated statute and not a constitutional amendment, Ohio lawmakers have some control over the measure if it passes. And legislative leaders have indicated they would likely make changes to the plan, though they are not specifying exactly what they would do. They could also repeal it altogether, though no one is talking about doing that, especially if it were to pass by a healthy margin. Polls show the proposal has a good shot at passing.

While the prosecuting attorneys said they know many parts of the initiated statute could change, they don’t think it should come to that. They said voters shouldn’t have to rely on lawmakers to protect them from bad legislation and should just vote no on Tuesday.

This is the last week of early voting in Ohio. Polls are open throughout the weekend but will be closed on Monday. Election Day is Tuesday.

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Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.