Legal Cannabis – Capitalization or Decriminalization?

“I was gonna clean my room until I got high
I gonna get up and find the broom but then I got high
My room is still messed up and I know why
‘Cause I got high…” – Afroman

In just a few days, as a citizen of Ohio, I will have to option to vote on the legalization of marijuana; a drug that has directly ravaged the lives of many minorities in my community.  I am sickened by repeated commercials airing on television with such a remarkably positive spin on the use of marijuana and why this is “good for Ohio.”  There are two prevailing thoughts on this issue – this will decriminalize marijuana users and largely reduce the cost spent on “policing the sell / possession of marijuana.”  This sounds quite noble, but I boldly reject these claims.  The law, issue 3, allows only 10 commercial marijuana grow facilities.  While those growing marijuana can not sell it, those who would like to sell it are limited in the amount they can sell and will need to purchase a state license to sell.

The very same drug that painted Trayvon Martin as a “thug” and fueled the media to all but mar his character is now on the ballot for legalization because a few wealthy people have spent millions of dollars attempting to change the narrative for their direct benefit.  This is not about the people of Ohio; it’s about money.  This feels like the reverse golden rule – he who has the gold makes the rules.     Surprisingly, there is little clarity for those incarcerated for possession of marijuana and how those selling illegal marijuana will be affected.  Interesting details to be left out.  It is highly unlikely that people in poverty will procure a state license to sell.  Let us not be fooled – there will still be policing of those illegally selling marijuana.  Decriminalization isn’t only about changing a law, but it is more profoundly about changing a predominant view.

 If we ignore the social costs and look at the potential for profit, well, this law is definitely good for venture capitalist and oligopoly participant, Nick Lachey, former 98 Degrees singer.  According to The Times Reporter, “The same investors who’ve pumped millions into the legalization campaign would operate the 10 grow facilities, reaping financial rewards that are estimated to gross $1.14 billion for growers alone. We believe that’s anything but responsible.  The effort ignores basic free market principles and is aimed solely at lining the pockets of a select few. They’ve even set the tax rate themselves.”

One bone of contention I have rests in the reality that in Ohio there are a disproportionate amount of arrests for minorities in possession of marijuana, although, there is basically parity in the number of users when comparing minorities and whites.   This speaks to a broken justice system.  A report in 2009 by Jon Gettman, Ph.D. on “Marijuana in Ohio,” indicates that, “Marijuana arrests have a disproportionate impact on two demographic groups – young people and minorities.  In many cases an arrest for marijuana possession makes a criminal out of an otherwise law‐ abiding individual.  …However differences in the arrest rates between whites and blacks cannot be explained by differences in marijuana use.  In 2007, for example, 10.5% of whites used marijuana in the last year while 12.2% of blacks reported such use.  These figures indicate that marijuana use by blacks is about 20% more prevalent than use by whites.   While this is a statistically significant difference, it does not explain why arrest rates for marijuana possession for blacks are three times higher nationally than for whites.”

It may seem like a win for social justice if marijuana is legalized in our state, however, this thought implicitly relies on the assumption that a profitable change for a few will be a profitable change for the commonwealth.  This law does not change the implicit bias of our current criminal justice system and it does not protect the interest of the most vulnerable in our society; children.    I think this will open doors that we are already having a difficult time closing.  The heroin epidemic is growing like a bad weed (pun intended) in Ohio; it is also no secret that marijuana is a popular drug with young people and often and introductory drug to other illicit drugs.  You tell me, is this a case of capitalism cloaked in social justice? 

Most disturbing about this initiative is the legalization of marijuana edibles.  What kid does not like candy, brownies or cookies, unless allergic? Comparisons to alcohol prohibition are not as strong, in my opinion, because the introduction of edibles changes the game for our children.  There is a natural appeal for children.  Everyone is singing Colorado’s praises, but social costs are once again being ignored.

After visiting Colorado in early October 2015, where marijuana was legalized in 2012, Attorney General Mike DeWine said Colorado officials advised against passing the measure. He said that nearly half of the marijuana sold in Colorado is in an edible form, and he expressed his concern that children will accidentally eat marijuana. He stated:[53]

Ohio will be fundamentally changed … There’s going to be plenty of marijuana to go around.[6]

Andy Mineo has said, “Truth disturbs the comfortable and comforts the disturbed.”  I hope you are uncomfortably disturbed by a law that seeks to fatten the pockets of the wealthy and prey on the plight of the poor.  I am disturbed.

Issue 3 is detailed here.  To find out more about the Social Costs of marijuana in Ohio, click here.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” -Proverbs 31:8-9 (NIV)

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