Ohioans Divided on Legalizing Marijuana

Ohioans Divided on Legalizing Marijuana

Ohioans Divided on Legalizing Marijuana

Ohioans remain split on whether marijuana should be legal, despite recent votes in Colorado and Washington.

The state was even with 47 percent supporting legalization and 47 percent opposing it in a Quinnipiac poll released this past week.

Ohioans were slightly more conservative on the topic than the nation at large. Fifty-one percent of Americans supported legalization of the drug and 44 percent opposed legalization, according to a poll released earlier this month.

Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana through ballot initiatives, but that’s an unlikely route for Ohio, said Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. A recent initiative, the Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment of 2012, didn’t make the November ballot.

“It’s so expensive to run a ballot initiative,” Fox said.

But efforts to legalize medical marijuana through legislation have not fared much better.

Ohio Reps. Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, and Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown, proposed legislation to decriminalize medical marijuana in April 2011, but the bill saw no action.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use would be a mistake.

“When we say something’s legal, the law is a teacher,” DeWine said. “We’re saying it’s OK, it’s alright.”

That message would cause marijuana use to increase dramatically, he said.

Washington and Colorado voters still don’t know how their state initiatives will jive with federal law, which prohibits cannabis. A majority of Americans, 64 percent, want the federal government to stay out of states’ marijuana laws, according to a Gallup poll.

DeWine said he wouldn’t speculate on what the U.S. Attorney General should do.

Chillicothe Law Director Sherri Rutherford said she doubted Ohioans would support legalization of marijuana, even if taxing the drug would bring in funds for local governments.

“It’s a mentality we have. We won’t go for it,” Rutherford said.

In Ohio, support is strongest among Democrats (57 percent for legalization), African-Americans (60 percent) and people ages 18 to 29 (65 percent). Their views mimicked those of the nation at large, where 58 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of African-Americans and 67 percent of people ages 18 to 29 supported legalization.

“As more and more states start to pass medical marijuana laws, people see this is just like any other medicine,” Fox said.

Ohioans who oppose legalization of marijuana tend to be Republican (67 percent against legalization), born-again evangelicals (65 percent) and individuals older than 65 (68 percent), according to the poll. Nationwide, 66 percent of Republicans, 64 percent of born-again evangelicals and 56 percent of individuals older than 65 opposed legalization of the drug, according to the poll.

Several local prosecutors said they would enforce whichever law is on the books.

“It’s up to the will of the state of Ohio. We live in a democracy,” Marion Law Director Mark Russell said.

Newark Law Director Doug Sassen said he would enforce the law as it’s written, but doesn’t think legalization of marijuana will save the city money on staffing because police officers and prosecutors have plenty of other work to do.

Sassen said he’s heard concerns that legalizing marijuana would increase operating a vehicle while under the influence violations, Sassen said.

“If there is no restriction on consumption of marijuana, it becomes similar to alcohol and there could be some residual impact,” Sassen said.


Twitter: @jbalmert


(Ohioans Divided on Legalizing Marijuana)