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Ohio, justice stumbles with marijuana rejection

Milam's Musings,

For the foreseeable future, Ohio residents will continue to be locked up for the "crimes" associated with marijuana.

In an almost 2-to-1 pummeling, Ohioans rejected Issue 3, which would have legalized marijuana in the most populous state thus far, with 1.9 million voting "no" and 1.1 million voting "yes."

It's not particularly surprising that this didn't pass. For one, it was the first state to attempt recreational and medical legalization in one piece of legislation. People are more sympathetic to the latter and there's at least some promise there.

State Rep. Ryan Smith told the Columbus Dispatch there's tremendous support for medical marijuana and it's something "we should have a bigger discussion about."

Yeah, true, but here's how I look at it: marijuana legalization ought to occur across the board; that it has potential medical benefits is simply an added argument to the obvious.

Nevertheless, it's astounding in the "land of the free" people seeking reprieve from crippling illnesses and conditions can still be arrested and potentially locked up for smoking marijuana.

Secondly, Ohio is the quintessential middle-of-the-road state. It has a lot of moderates - third most in the country, according to Gallup - and so is not keen to do a sweeping flip on recreational and medical marijuana.

Finally, there's the obvious point: the legalized cartel part of Issue 3, wherein many of the same people financing Issue 3 stood to gain from its passage. This is how Issue 2 arrived on the ballot, as a way to counteract that potentiality. Issue 2 also passed, albeit at a much closer margin (1.5 million "yes," 1.4 million "no").

Many people I know who would otherwise be supportive of legalizing marijuana were hesitant to do so for that aforementioned reason, including this newspaper's editorial board.

Respectfully, I would say progressives and liberals are a bit myopic on this point. It seems at times that anything that remotely has the taint of corporations and profits is to be disdained and rejected out-of-hand.

But I'm thinking long-term. I detest crony capitalism, too, but the greater evil in this situation is that people will continue be locked up for crimes involving marijuana. Not to say anything, either, of those that were looking forward to passage for medical purposes.

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Those that opposed this particular legislation retorted, "There's always 2016!" ResponsibleOhio and its backers spent an estimated $25 million and lost in all 88 counties in Ohio, according to the Dispatch.

I would be surprised to see ResponsibleOhio make another go at it, although they seem willing, at least. I would be surprised if someone else could step in to go through the process of getting it back on the ballot, much less the cost to do so. I would be surprised to see marijuana on the ballot again anytime soon.

Ohioans had an opportunity to really domino the legalization of marijuana movement given its size and middle-of-the-road status, but instead, we fell back to the status quo.

There is not one good argument for maintaining the criminalization of marijuana. I invite any reader to offer one and email it to me.

From the progressive angle, their arguments tend to swirl back to the problem of profit. Michelle Alexander, author of "The New Jim Crow," said the day before the election that there's a "gold rush" going on in the marijuana legalization movement.

"The drive for profit is, in many respects, corrupting the drug policy reform movement, and the question for those of us who support marijuana legalization is whether we are going to support all legalization initiatives no matter how unjust the new legal regimes may be," Alexander said.

To be sure, what the post-criminalization of marijuana legal structure will look like is certainly a concern, and criticisms (of which I would agree with) of the emerging structures are sound, but unfortunately, we also have to be pragmatic. And quite simply, legalized marijuana is better than criminalized marijuana, even if in doing so, it's not our ideal arrangement.

The likely Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, when asked at the last Democratic debate if she was ready to take a position on legalizing recreational marijuana, said, "No."

Clinton will only support legalizing marijuana when it's politically opportunistic and safe to do so. She's more sympathetic to medical marijuana, but even then, she makes the "we need more research argument."

Research for what? Common sense alone tells you that having marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug is absolute stupidity.

A Schedule 1 drug is defined by the Drug Enforcement Administration as, "Drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence."

Look at what marijuana is lumped in with within that classification: heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone and peyote.

Now, to be sure, you're reading the words of someone that would legalize every single one of those, but I'm trying to stick to the (somewhat) easier pitch of legalizing marijuana.

But still, we don't need research to know that marijuana is not in heroin's league when it comes to individual and societal harm. Not to say anything, either, of those pesky legal substances not mentioned: alcohol and tobacco.

We live in the "land of the free" where our government considers marijuana more dangerous than meth (meth is a Schedule II drug), where a "liberal" can't take a strong position on letting people put what they want into their bodies and where individuals are still getting sentenced for marijuana-related offenses.

As for conservatives, there's no quicker litmus test to contradict their limited government bona fides. They are fully accepting of big government continuing to criminalize marijuana.

Ohio Governor John Kasich was one such conservative against Issue 3 and also a Republican candidate for president.

"At a time when too many families are being torn apart by drug abuse, Ohioans said no to easy access to drugs and instead chose a path that helps strengthen our families and communities," said Gov. John Kasich in a statement.

Yes, drug abuse is a problem, but it's not a criminal problem because then you're compounding an addiction problem with the litany of issues that come with being ensnared in the criminal justice system. Therefore, it's both the drug addiction and its prohibition that are destroying families and communities.

Ohio had a chance to take an admittedly stumbling step toward freedom, but rejected the chance.

The whole point of freedom is that it's not tidy and clean and able to be perfectly pre-planned, but nonetheless, it's a preferable option than continued prohibition and draconian control.