April 16, 2014

Medina
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Group pushing for marijuana legalization in Ohio

Colorado consumers have been able to purchase marijuana for recreational use at stores across the state since Jan. 1 — and Washington state will follow suit this year.

Cher Neufer thinks the Buckeye State should join the club — despite stiff opposition.

Neufer founded Ohio’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in 2001. The group’s goal is to get marijuana legalized for adults — both medicinally and recreationally — and to give state government millions of dollars in sales taxes along the way.

Harrisville Township resident Cher Neufer, 66, founded the Ohio chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in 2001. She advocates for the legalization of marijuana and its responsible use. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY NICK GLUNT)

Harrisville Township resident Cher Neufer, 66, founded the Ohio chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in 2001. She advocates for the legalization of marijuana and its responsible use. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY NICK GLUNT)

“We’ve had bills introduced into the Ohio legislature every two years for eight years now,” said Neufer, 66, of Harrisville Township.

The latest legislation — House Bill 153 and House Joint Resolution 6 — push for Ohio to legalize marijuana for medicinal use and for recreational use.

The resolution — introduced in May and modeled after the Colorado amendment — would grant adults age 21 and older the ability to possess one ounce of marijuana for personal recreational use and to grow up to six indoor plants without a license.

The proposal also would permit marijuana to be sold but only by licensed vendors and customers would have to show a state ID, such as a driver’s license.

Under Ohio law now, possessing less than 100 grams — about 3½ ounces — is a minor misdemeanor and up to 200 grams is a fourth-degree misdemeanor. Marijuana possession becomes a felony at 200 grams. Cultivating marijuana can be a misdemeanor or a felony based on a variety of factors.

Municipalities can have stiffer penalties. In the city of Medina, for example, possessing any marijuana is at least a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by a mandatory three days in jail and a maximum of six months because of a 1989 ordinance.

Neufer said the proposed legislation would keep many things unchanged.

Driving under the influence of marijuana and underage possession would remain illegal.

Workplaces would retain the ability to screen workers for marijuana and the proposed legislation allows voters in municipalities and counties to ban recreational marijuana use.

Landlords could bar tenants from growing marijuana. Legal marijuana grown in Ohio would not be allowed to leave the state and could not be sold over the Internet.

“It’s not a free-for-all,” Neufer said. “It would be regulated just like beer and wine, but with even more restrictions. You can brew your own wine at home, but you can’t sell it unless you have a license.”

Neufer and the organization she represents — NORML, for short — advocate marijuana’s legalization, but she said users should be responsible just like when using alcohol.

“We agree it’s not for kids —just like alcohol and tobacco aren’t for kids,” she said. “And we agree that anything that’s impairing you shouldn’t be used at work or while you’re driving.”

Although Neufer wants to see marijuana legalized, she said the drug is no longer part of her lifestyle. She said she used marijuana during and after college in the 1960s and ’70s. In 2001, she had drug possession charges dropped after completing an intervention program.

Rep. Bob Hagan

Rep. Bob Hagan

State Rep. Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown, the chief sponsor of H.B. 153 and the resolution, first introduced a medical marijuana bill in 2005 as a senator.

“I want medical marijuana to pass through the legislature so we can control it and regulate it, and tax it if we can,” he said.

Under the Ohio legislation, the state would reap an initial 15 percent tax on all marijuana sales through 2018, when the tax rate would be re-examined.

There’s no estimate how much tax money could result from marijuana legalization in Ohio, Hagan said. In Colorado, the tax is 25 percent and lawmakers estimate it should bring in $70 million in taxes annually.

Hagan said the state would benefit financially not only from taxes, but also from reduced prison inmates and from police not “wasting resources” catching marijuana users.

“When you have police officers pulling kids over and finding a bag of pot in the car, it’s ridiculous to be sending them to jail,” he said. “We should be going after the users and pushers of dangerous drugs.”

Both pieces of legislation have had hearings over the spring and summer, but Hagan said he doesn’t expect them to get to the House floor for a vote because of opposition from House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina.

“It’s hard to get Bill Batchelder to move on this,” Hagan said. “Put it this way: He’s not very high on the subject.”

Hagan said that’s frustrating because so many people support marijuana legalization.

A 2013 Pew Research Center survey found 52 percent of Americans support legalization for recreational use, and a survey by the University of Cincinnati Institute for Policy Research found in 2010 that 73 percent of Ohioans supported medical marijuana.

“You’d think the legislature would act based on popular opinion,” Hagan said.

Hagan isn’t the only Democrat supporting legalization. President Barack Obama in a recent interview with The New Yorker gave his take on the issue.

“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” Obama said. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Smoking marijuana is “not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy,” Obama said.

Obama’s administration has given states permission to experiment with marijuana regulation, though its use is still illegal on federal property.

Critics of the new laws raise concerns about public health and law enforcement, asking whether wide availability of the drug will lead to more underage drug use, more cases of driving while high and more crime.

“Marijuana is a drug, and all drugs affect brain functioning, particularly for youth, because their brains are still developing — sometimes to the age of 25,” said Brian Nowak, director of the Medina County Drug Abuse Commission.

Though marijuana reform would still ban the drug for minors, Nowak said that doesn’t stop minors right now from getting their hands on alcohol and tobacco.

“You’re always going to have those stores that don’t check IDs and those people who buy it for young people,” he said.

Nowak said legalizing marijuana likely would encourage more young people to use the drug. A 2011 survey by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America found that fewer high school seniors compared to 2003 thought there was a great risk of harm from smoking marijuana.

“We know tobacco and alcohol are legal, and if marijuana was too, the message that would spread is that those things are OK and not as harmful as other drugs,” Nowak said. “But there are potential dangers in them, even in alcohol and tobacco.”

He said the greatest danger is drugs’ ability to cause dependency.

“While it is true that alcohol and tobacco addiction rates are higher than that of marijuana, this is the case in large part because they are legal substances and the stigma associated with them has been removed,” Nowak said.

“Doing the same for marijuana will only ensure that addiction rates continue to rise.”

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reported in a 2008 study that children and teenagers nationwide are six times more likely to be in drug treatment for marijuana than all other illegal drugs combined.

Nowak said that’s alarming and argued society’s growing acceptance of marijuana is partly to blame.

“Legislation seeking to decriminalize and/or legalize marijuana will reduce the perception of harm associated with its use,” Nowak said. “This is not the message we can afford to send to America’s youth.”

Still, he said it was valuable to have the discussion over whether to legalize the drug.

“I think it’s important for people to be informed on this issue,” Nowak said, “because it’s one that’s not going away.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.

MARIJUANA USE IN MEDINA COUNTY

• Four percent of county residents in 2012 reported using marijuana in the past six months. Of those people, about a fourth said they used the drug every day and about three-fifths said they used it less than once a month.
• Twelve percent of adults with incomes less than $25,000 reported they used marijuana in the past six months, opposed to just 3 percent with incomes greater than $25,000.
• Seventeen percent of the county’s high school students in 2012 reported using marijuana in the past month. Statewide, 24 percent of students reported using the drug, and 23 percent reported it nationwide.

SOURCE: Living Well Medina County Community Assessment Survey of 2012

MARIJUANA-RELATED CRIMES IN MEDINA COUNTY

• Of the 290 cases investigated by the Medina County Drug Task Force last year, 60 were marijuana-related and resulted in 51 arrests.
• Of the arrests, 35 were for trafficking and the rest were for possession and cultivation. In addition, 22 had drug charges related to another kind of drug as well.

SOURCE: Gary Hubbard, director, Medina County Drug Task Force

  • Youssef Ismail

    Good. As a life long conservative who doesn’t smoke anything, I’ll be the first in line to vote for it. You cannot have invalid laws in a just society. You cannot make a medical/nontoxic/nonaddictive herb illegal while allowing people to drink alcohol, smoke cigs, eat fast food, pop over the counter pills, or consume any of the hundreds of other legal substances that are far more harmful than marijuana. That makes a mockery out of justice.

    You cannot create an artificial black market and then wash your hands of the bloodshed that market creates. You cannot have system where the police solve less than 50% of murders, 10% of burglaries, a very low percentage of rapes, but have the “time” to arrest near 1 million people a year for something that isn’t an actual crime.

    We simply cannot allow this lunacy to continue. It is a slap in the face to every single citizen in this nation. I’m a little dismayed the morons who are supposed be our republican leaders are so quick to allow democrats to steal this issue. It’s about freedom, common sense, and ending a trillion dollar failed policy. That’s right up our alley, and we won’t be winning anymore elections on a national level until we get it right. No younger voters are going to vote for someone who thinks they are a “criminal” for choosing a smoke over a drink, it’s time to get real.

  • HmmmSaysDavidHume

    What’s interesting is the remarkable tide of politicians – very prominent ones of late – who have begun the legalization debate. President Obama essentially threw the ball up in the air, and it appears Dems have won the tip. The question is whether Reps will respond with sensible ideas. The Drug War has failed. Prohibition has failed. People have a self-evident, inalienable right to ingest what they will.

    Instead of giving this market to criminals, we should give it instead to responsible citizens. We can then regulate marketing, increase penalties for harming others and providing to children, and take a treatment approach for those who do develop addiction issues.

    No reasonable person suggests pot is harmless. But President Obama got it basically right when he said its a vice, a bad habit and a waste of time. And he got it right when he said it’s not has harmful as alcohol. What is reasonable is acknowledging the truth that cannabis exists, lots of people use it, and it’s not going away. Like alcohol and gambling before it, let’s take the market out of the hands of violent criminals, and focus our efforts instead on violent crime and property crime. Let’s focus on educating kids truthfully, with scientific studies and restrictions on commercial speech. And yes, lets tax, while finding a proper balance between revenues and encouraging a black market’s continued prosperity.

  • Immortal Illumined

    the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING!!!13

    from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, cali runs this planet by 2 decades, tying marijuana to the 2014, 2016 elections

    20 years behind us southern states, sad and scary…nobody denies freedoms like the south, nobody…even is marijuana reforms did pass the republiCANTS that run the south would deny you all your freedoms, centuries of practice…no matter though, we never planned on getting your backwards brethren from day one, half the country already….what’s that? ohio is not in the south? fooled me

    love and freedom forever

    MARIJUANA SUPER BOWL 2014, free state vs. free state, destiny

    AMERICA’S WAR ON DRUGS IS A WAR ON AMERICANS!!!33

  • Immortal Illumined

    yet you support the biggest freedom denying group on the planet,,,sad, because of those you support this plant is still illegal all over the south

  • DavidMacko

    Even with what I consider as excessive regulations, I support HB 153, which is a significant step forward to restoration of liberty in Ohio. I commend Ms. Neufer and Northern Ohio NORML for their dedicated, persistent efforts at great personal sacrifice to help restore liberty in Ohio.

  • Brian Kelly B Bizzle

    The “War on Marijuana” has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful “War on Drugs” that has cost our country over a trillion dollars.

    Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions more of our tax dollars fighting a never ending “War on Marijuana”, lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. It’s a no brainer.

    The Prohibition of Marijuana has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones are being sent to jail and are being given permanent criminal records which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives, and for what reason?

    Marijuana is much safer, and healthier to consume than alcohol. Yet do we lock people up for choosing to drink?

    Let’s end this hypocrisy now!

    The government should never attempt to legislate morality by creating victim-less “crimes” because it simply does not work and costs the taxpayers a fortune.

    Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

    Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

  • Michael Miller

    I support legalization for several reasons and could make this post very long, but I’ll keep it short. I have drank and I have smoked Cannabis, and it amazes me completely that the safer and healthier choice, weed, is illegal. To ruin lives and spend taxpayer money to arrest these nonviolent people is truly outrageous and unjust. This plant does more good from a medicinal standpoint than any man made drug with NO side effects, and the patient can grow it in his back yard. Millions of people are taking pharmaceutical drugs, getting addicted, destroying vital organs, and dying every day, and it doesn’t have to happen. If you are not familiar with Cannabis oil, do some research. You will be shocked. And about the message we would send to our youth… What kind of message do we send to our youth when we smoke cigarettes in front of them, drink in front of them, and turn on the TV and expose them to dozens of beer and liquor commercials? What kind of message do we send them by lying to them about how dangerous weed is when it’s literally one of the safest substances on earth? That said, kids shouldn’t smoke it because recreational use is for adults. The fact is, we wouldn’t be sending ANY message to the kids, and we would make it harder for them to get. The black market ENABLES THEM TO GET IT EASIER. Why don’t you understand that Mr. Nowak? If anything, we’re sending them a message now by keeping it illegal. “When you are of age, go ahead and drink if you want but don’t smoke weed. It’s illegal and you will face the wrath of the law”. If the tens of thousands of people that died last year from drinking were instead smoking, they’d still be alive. The people that are for prohibition are allowing this to continue. Nobody has EVER died smoking weed. It’s literally impossible to OD on it. Kids drink themselves to death every day. And you think you’re protecting them? You might want to rethink what you think you know. Moving on… Harvard University, Brown University, and UCLA have done decades of peer reviewed studies and have found that people who smoke Cannabis LOWER their chances of getting cancer. The THC in Cannabis is antiproliferative, antimetastatic, antiangiogenic, and proapoptotic. This is fact, not theory. This is not well known, but adults that ingest Cannabis also lower their odds of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. And nobody has ever gotten Brown Lung from Cannabis smoke. This is another reason why it should be legalized. The citizens of Ohio will be healthier, especially if they put down the bottle. The people want prohibition to end. Please let this happen. The state AND it’s youth will be healthier, happier, and safer. What more reason do you need? In the 20 states that have medicinal marijuana, the fatal accidents have declined by 9% to 15%. Legalization will hopefully get drinkers to smoke instead, and (another fact here) weed is not associated with violent crime and domestic violence. If there’s a substance present, it’s ALWAYS alcohol. Sometimes the drunk also smokes weed or takes prescription pills or whatever. But the people that smoke weed and nothing else are very peaceful people. Ask any cop that responds to a domestic violence call. It’s ALWAYS alcohol.

  • Michael Miller

    According to Mr. Nowak, people in Ohio must not be able to make decisions for themselves as to what they put into their bodies. Legalization would confuse people and make them think these drugs are okay, because, hey… they’re legal. Thank you for the vote of confidence Mr. Nowak.

  • Joseph Galla

    I think this whole Idea of making Marijuana legal for recreation use is wrong and that Lady Cher, she is off her rocker cause its not pass if its ever on Ballot for an Election.

  • Jason A Sprouse

    Marijuana sales gives the basic funding to keep drug dealers going. It gives them the “in” to push addictive drugs onto people who are vulnerable. People who smoke marijuana can go without if they are short on money. People who are on heroin or meth will prostitute or steal to get their next fix. I’ve seen it.
    Zero tolerance on marijuana is not winning anything, it’s benefitting organized crime. A criminal with a record that is dealing heroin, PCP and meth does not care that the marijuana he is in posession of is a crime. He prefers it that way.

  • kyle smith

    I feel leagalizing marjuanna in ohio would be positive impact for our state im 19 years old ive been smoking sience i was 11 yea i started early but i had to take pills like adderall and it messed my head up my only help i had for something i have to live with the rest of my life is weed i feel it with help our state with creating new jobs and the crime rate will disparate i cant stress it enough that there are alot of postive ways to use marijanna
    Thank u for letting me express my feelings

  • Ed Hunt

    Restart alcohol prohibition, that SURE didn’t raise crime rates AND create the largest black market organized crime problem

  • jack sheit

    the greatest plant in the universe? i would have picked the diatom. but whatever

  • William Williams

    there is nothing wrong with weed, it good for you compared to alcohol. drinking beer does not always lead to hard liquor. And it does not make everyone an alcoholic . Besides Hemp is a good product to make many products. It s like making dandelions illegal……..

  • Edward R Hunt

    I myself spent Christmas 2006 in an induced coma due to a car accident December 12th, (and about 16 months later I realized I’d developed a seizure disorder; and did so the hard way.) The seizures got progressively worse even taking 2 different medications until last September, when I had a right side temporal lobectomy preformed (which essentially entailed them paralyzing half of my brain, and then using what’s basically a sterilized ice cream scoop to remove about 80 percent of the right temporal lobe.) During the time from roughly June of 2007 and September 6th 2013 I was having between 3 and over a dozen temporal (focal) seizures a day, and noticed that when I had marijuana I had fewer. This is extra important since my focal autonitism was setting fires. I’d rather have a place to obtain it where there’s some sort of quality control and monitoring over an unregulated free for all like it is now.

  • John Jamiol

    Lol all the people putting marijuana down try it some time then judge it. Just face it its a plant that has nothing but good effects but youre all okay poping xanax and over dosing rather then taking the safe route all these pills they put out to help people with the problems marijuana can solve kill people ALOT OF THEM and yet not one recorded death from marijuana. My mom died from heroin my dad alcohal and sister pills dont believe me check my facebook i have yet to see a death from marijuana. Ive seen the good and the bad open your eyes people its time to legalize it and be done with it.