Voters need to be aware of what’s wrapped inside the package known as Issue 3. You don’t have to scratch the surface too hard to find problems with the constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, and that is why the Urbana Daily Citizen is joining a multitude of statewide organizations and media outlets urging people to vote “no” on the measure.
Issue 3 is more than a proposal to make Ohio the fifth state to legalize marijuana for both recreational and medicinal usage. Hiding underneath the cloak of personal freedom is a well-developed plan that lines the pockets of wealthy backers. It allows just 10 indoor facilities to produce all of the marijuana to be sold in the state. The limited liability companies (LLCs) chosen to operate those facilities were each required to make a $2 million donation to the ResponsibleOhio advocacy group. None of the operators of the LLCs had to go through a statewide bidding process to get their contract, nor was there any bidding for the growing sites.
Issue 3 also fails to include any limitations on the marketing of its product. Retail outlets will be selling marijuana-laced cookies, brownies and candies — treats that are particularly appealing to children, and often contain dangerously high concentrations of THC. The state also will allow one store per every 10,000 Ohioans, meaning there could be 1,159 of retail marijuana stores—more than the number of Starbucks or McDonald’s locations and nearly three times the number of state liquor stores in Ohio.
Details have not been provided on how one becomes an owner of such a store, leading to some concern. Municipalities would not be allowed to restrict zoning for stores, unless an area was 100 percent residential. Issue 3 does, however, stipulate fairly how and where stores can be located. Voters in local precincts would have to approve a license for a marijuana store. The stores could not be located within 1,000 feet of a pre-existing school, day-care center or church.
Without a doubt, Issue 3 would bring tons of tax dollars to municipal, county and township governments. Along with general business taxes, fees and assessments, marijuana production facility gross revenue would be taxed by a flat 15 percent rate and marijuana retail stores would be taxed by a flat 5 percent rate.
The tax revenue would be split up in three ways:
• 55 percent to municipal and township governments.
• 30 percent to county governments.
• 15 percent to the Marijuana Control Commission Fund.
Of course the tax dollars come with a human cost.
A 170-page federal government report found the following happened the year after Colorado legalized marijuana in 2013:
• Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 32 percent.
• Marijuana-related emergency department visits increased 29 percent.
• Marijuana-related hospitalizations increased 38 percent.
• More teenagers were getting pot, even though the legal age was 21. Colorado teenagers ranked No. 3 in the nation for marijuana use and 56 percent higher than the national average.
• Colorado college-age group ranked No. 2 in the nation for marijuana use and 54 percent higher than the national average.
Given the Colorado report, the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police is particularly worried about the impact of Issue 3 on road safety. It points out it has no current field sobriety tests to detect THC levels.
Ohio employers also look at the Colorado study with concern. Their worries center around being able to find reliable employees, the higher cost of testing, productivity, liability risks and employee tardiness.
We do understand the arguments that favor the legalization of marijuana.
The amount of money being spent to enforce marijuana possession laws and prosecute violators is estimated to be more than $100 million a year, and that’s in a state where possessing a small amount of marijuana — less than 100 grams — is a minor misdemeanor that carries no jail time and does not create a criminal record. One way to reduce that cost is to remove marijuana from the criminal justice system and regulate it in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco.
The fact that nearly 700,000 Ohioans signed petitions circulated by ResponsibleOhio to put the legalization of marijuana on the Nov. 3 ballot is testament that Ohioans from all sides of the political spectrum are fed up with the General Assembly’s failure to deal with the issue the past 18 years.
However, Issue 3 comes to voters with too many flaws and unanswered questions.
Ohioans should not allow themselves to be tricked into passing it.