Just like any topic, there are two sides to the debate over possible passage of Ohio Issue 2, the Marijuana Legalization Initiative, in the Nov. 7 general election.
A “yes” vote for the issue supports legalizing marijuana for adults 21 years old and older, allowing adults to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to six mature marijuana plants and up to six seedlings, and enacting a 10% tax on marijuana sales. A “no” vote opposes legalizing marijuana for adult use in Ohio.
Medical marijuana became legal in Ohio in 2016 when House Bill 523 was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich. According to the state, patients can obtain a medical marijuana card if they have conditions such as AIDS, Alzheimer’s, cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, glaucoma, terminal illness and a slew of others.
Approval of Issue 2 would shorten the list of qualifications to simply being over the age of 21.
Health specialists in the Mahoning Valley can be found on both sides of Issue 2. Some worry about the long-term effects of continuous marijuana use, along with the example it will set for children if adults are openly using it.
Supporters of the issue, however, say they believe it will benefit local businesses and the economy.
There are two dispensaries in Mahoning County with a certificate of operation and one in Trumbull County.
Co-owner of Green Leaf Therapy in Struthers, Cory Groner, said there should be no worry about the use of recreational legalization, as long as users and business owners know what they are doing, and do it appropriately.
“A lot of our patients enjoy us, and we have a good staff,” Groner said. “We deal with the Ohio Board of Pharmacy to keep track of our inventory report, which is accounted for every night. And if the product amount is off, we have to find how we misdispensed, then we report those pharmacy qualifications through the state.”
When hiring new employees, Groner said the first thing his business looks for is customer-friendly people. Then, once employees are hired, Groner and his staff teach as much about their products as they can so the employees are as knowledgeable as possible.
“We have a binder with thousands of products for educating our staff on types of strains,” Groner said. “We had to have a pharmacist on site to train in the beginning.”
April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, recently said that cannabis disorder is in the top 10 types of substance abuse that her organization treats in Trumbull County.
“We are also concerned that kids won’t think it’s harmful,” she said. “Once marijuana was made legal for medical use, kids’ usage went up.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine opposes the initiative for the same reason.
“I have seen the negative effects it has had in states that have legalized it and fear that it would also lead to increased use by underage kids and that small children could consume marijuana-laced foods that look like candy,” DeWine said.
One medical marijuana patient from Lake Milton, who chose to remain anonymous, believes that legalized or not, kids are always going to find a way to obtain it.
“It’s just like with everything else. You have to be 21 to buy alcohol, vapes and tobacco but you see all of these teenagers in high school who can acquire all of those very easily,” the patient said in an email. “What it all boils down to is people wanting to be able to go out and make their own choices, as opposed to the government making choices for us. I feel that the legalization of marijuana will be a great thing.”
There also is cause for concern over how potent marijuana is toay compared with what it had been in the past.
Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff of the Ohio Department of Health spoke in a Zoom news conference Thursday about the effects of marijuana and how recreational legalization may expand concerns.
“Marijuana that is available today is much stronger than what was commonly available in the past,” Vanderhoff said. “Secondly, there are very real risks, especially for young Ohioans. They include things like physical dependence, addiction and other negative consequences that are all magnified by exposure to higher concentrations of THC, and by a person’s age. The younger the age of initiation, the greater the risk.”
Vanderhoff added that THC can produce symptoms of anxiety, agitation, paranoia and even psychosis in young people. He also mentioned the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and their warning against pregnant women who use marijuana.
“Even after birth, marijuana use may still be dangerous to a baby,” Vanderhoff said. “THC has been found in breast milk for up to six days after a lab’s recorded use of marijuana. And we know that THC can affect infant brain development, resulting in things like hyperactivity, poor cognitive function and other long-term consequences. Additionally, marijuana smoke contains many of the same harmful components as tobacco smoke.”
According to Vanderhoff, the human brain continues to develop from before birth into the mid-20s and therefore it is particularly vulnerable to the effects of addictive substances during that time. Deficits in attention and memory have been detected in marijuana use in teenagers, even after a month of discontinuing use.
If voters approve the initiative when voting ends in two weeks, Ohio would become the 24th state to legalize marijuana for recreational and personal use.
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