This November, Ohio will have the opportunity to become the fifth state to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Issue 3, a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution, will allow for adults 21 and over to possess one ounce or less and, with a license, grow up to four plants. As a supporter of legalization, I had high hopes for the amendment when it was announced.
A recent Pew Research Poll found that a majority of Americans support marijuana reform. Reasons listed for this include the beliefs that marijuana isn’t any more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, and that the drug war is unsustainable; it is expensive, and most convicted are caught with small amounts are nonviolent, and are teenagers and young adults. A conviction can result in long jail sentences, and ineligibility for federal financial aid for college.
Implementation may be difficult. Simply put, the U.S. Constitution grants federal law supremacy. This can put law enforcement in an awkward position. Lt. Mark Lopez of Wittenberg University Police said, “You have conflicting laws. As law enforcement, we end up with a different dynamic, because you have one law that says it’s okay and one law that says it’s not.”
Rob Baker, Ph.D. and professor of political science at Wittenberg, explained how this may or may not affect implementation.
“Having that is one thing, and enforcing it is another, and that’s where the issue is,” Baker said. “The attorney general prior to the one we have, Eric Holder, and now even [current attorney general] Lynch hasn’t come out and made a big deal about this. But, she hasn’t said that she wouldn’t do what Holder said, that they would back off on the states that have legalized marijuana with regard to the federal laws that prohibit it. I think the same could be said probably about Ohio’s situation, if it happens.”
Even if the law passes, college and employer policies may not change. Employers will still have an interest in safety, and marijuana can still be grounds for termination and disqualify one from Worker’s Compensation. Colleges and universities are still subject to federal guidelines. A student caught using or possessing marijuana may lose financial assistance or face expulsion.
Difficulties with implementation shouldn’t be what dissuades voters. What should dissuade voters is a matter of democratic philosophy. People should have the right to amend the laws under which they live, and marijuana should be legalized. But, constitutions are hard to change. Even minor tweaks have to go through the amendment process because the legislature is bound by the language of the amendment.
With this amendment, all commercial cultivation will be relegated to just 10 privately-owned sites. The writers of the proposal are these 10 businesses. This will codify into the state’s constitution that only these businesses will be allowed to profit. While this would take away from the street dealers, businesses should not be able to change constitutions in such a way as to make all market competition for their products punishable by law.