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Students react as marijuana comes to Ohio ballot in November

Ohioans will have an opportunity to vote on the state legalization of recreational marijuana this November.

If passed, the legislation would permit adults 21 and over to purchase and possess up to 2.5 ounces of the drug and to grow cannabis plants at home. In addition, a 10% tax would be leveled on marijuana sales. This revenue would go to administrative costs, jobs programs, addiction treatment centers and municipalities with dispensaries.

The measure arose from a citizen ballot initiative named the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which received 127,772 valid signatures — 3,000 more than required.

As the name suggests, the measure would establish similar restrictions as those around alcohol, including prohibiting the consumption of marijuana while driving or while being a passenger in a motor vehicle. Landlords and employers would also have the authority to “prohibit the adult use of cannabis in certain circumstances.”

Katie Thompson, a Miami University senior majoring in marketing and entrepreneurship from Dayton, Ohio, said she’s not sure which way she’ll vote in November, but she’s leaning toward voting to legalize it.

“I think people use it regardless, like so many people have tried it at least once,” Thompson said.  “So if you legalize it recreationally, you can teach them safe ways and quantities in which to use it.”

Although Thompson said the historically racist enforcement of drug laws is a pro for legalizing its use recreationally, marijuana’s environmental impact and the mixed opinions of health experts make her hesitant.

Marijuana’s positive — and negative — health impacts

Anna Radke, an associate professor in Miami’s Department of Psychology, teaches Psychopharmacology (PSY 356), a course about the behavioral and psychological effects of drugs. Radke said most of the positive effects of marijuana are felt instantly.

“It gives people an initial feeling of relaxation and reduced anxiety. You hear people using it for all sorts of reasons,” Radke said. “It feels good and it’s a stress relief.”

She said when having conversations about the effects of marijuana, it’s important to distinguish between acute and long-term impacts.

“When you're actually using it, it also comes with things like deficits in attention or memory impairments, reduced reaction times and so on,” Radke said. “Chronic or heavy use can have some long-term impacts and persistent deficits, which include things like impairments in attention or concentration, executive functions, learning and memory and psychomotor reaction times.”

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Radke said these longer-term effects tend to occur more with heavy use over time, particularly if people are using it in adolescence. In addition, she said students tend to believe marijuana isn’t addictive like other drugs are.

“We have a disorder that’s been defined as cannabis use disorder, just like we have for other drugs of abuse,” Radke said. “Students are always surprised to hear that it affects all of the same neural systems that other drugs of abuse do, like alcohol or opiates.”

Another misconception is that cannabis is completely safe. Radke said while it is safer than some other drugs, it's important to acknowledge that any psychoactive drug can have both benefits and drawbacks.

Radke said that because marijuana is illegal at the federal level, regulatory efforts and large-scale research on the substance are limited. This has contributed to the discrepancies between being prescribed medical marijuana compared to other medicines for pain or anxiety. 

Radke acknowledged how people use doctors to take other drugs, such as Adderall or opiates, recreationally as well, and the need to enter a dispensary rather than a pharmacy reinforces that tactic. 

“It’s delivered in a much more recreational way,” Radke said. “People are still smoking it or using edibles and things like that rather than what might feel more like a medical prescription to us, so I think the lines are a little blurry there.”

Using marijuana medically

Others view marijuana’s growing legal medical use as support in the case for legal recreational use. Hannah Litt, a senior art education major from Eagle, Colorado, said she uses marijuana medically in her home state to assist with chronic pain. 

“I was on a lot of high-grade pain medications from a very young age, and they always made me feel groggy and loopy and didn’t help with the pain. They just made me fall asleep,” Litt said. “If I take medical marijuana, I can get through my day without necessarily feeling the psychoactive benefits of it; it’s just the pain management that is really helpful.”

Although medical marijuana is already legal in Ohio, Litt said she thinks its expansion into recreational use will increase access and cultural acceptance of the compound. The additional time and cost of a medical diagnosis prevent some individuals with pain or anxiety from obtaining a medical card, and other individuals may prefer the government to not have a record of their medical marijuana use.

Litt is unable to purchase marijuana medically in Ohio because she’s not a resident. She said her pain worsens when she’s at Miami because she can’t bring it across state lines and doesn’t use street versions of the drug.

“I’ve noticed that the marijuana used here is all from the black market,” Litt said. “I don’t feel comfortable using marijuana here, not only because it’s illegal, but also because it’s not regulated. It could be laced with fentanyl or any kind of other drug that could instantly kill you or get you really addicted.”

Radke also noted the importance of regulations in ensuring a drug’s safety and said she is not yet sure which way she’ll vote in November, as more information and consideration of the various factors are needed before she makes a decision.

“We know there are consequences for drugs that are used in society,” Radke said. “Same thing with alcohol. We have to worry about driving while intoxicated or issues if it gets in the hands of kids. There [are] pros and cons for society to lay and decide if we think it’s worth the benefits.”