Kristin Hohman
Staff Writer

Lorain County Community College students, faculty, and staff may have the opportunity to vote to legalize marijuana across the state of Ohio later this year.

“I think marijuana should be legalized in Ohio for those that are 21 and over,” said Holly Wood, a telecommunications major at LCCC.

An amendment to legalize the personal and medicinal use of marijuana across the state is waiting on approval from Ohio Attorney General, Mike Dewine and the Ballot Board Review.

“Many people abuse the drug because it’s something that is seen as ‘forbidden’, Wood said. “But I believe that if it became legalized and is brought to light and governed like cigarettes and alcohol are it would possibly take away the desire for those who see it as a ‘thrill’.

The ballot initiative would legalize medical and recreational use of marijuana for adults age 21 or older.

“This is not an issue we should enter without considering the consequences,”said LCCC Professor of Microbiology in the Science and Mathematics division, Harry Kestler.

The organization behind the amendment, Responsible Ohio (a political action committee, or PAC) is seeking a constitutional amendment that will provide a highly regulated, fairly taxed, and lab-tested marijuana marketplace in Ohio, according to the organization’s website.

The amendment to the state’s constitution lays out the groundwork for the legal growth, manufacturing, testing, and sale of recreational and medical marijuana. The Marijuana Control Commission – created by this proposal – would be made up of seven members overseeing and regulating the manufacture, sale, distribution, licensing, and taxing of marijuana and marijuana infused products.

Ten tightly regulated growing locations are being planned throughout the state if the measure passes – three of which are in Northeast Ohio. Nearly 77 acres near Cromwell Park along the Black River in Lorain have been designated as a grow site, the proposed amendment reports. Other grow facilities would be located in Butler, Clermont, Franklin, Hamilton, Licking, Lucas, Montgomery, Stark and Summit counties, according to the initiative.

The measure also calls for five facilities where raw materials will be tested for safety, potency, and proper labelling. This ensures Ohio’s legal marijuana is pharmaceutical grade and safe for patients and consumers, the Responsible Ohio website states.

Manufacturing facilities will produce edible and other consumable marijuana products using raw materials. Marijuana production manufacturers will only be able to sell their product to legally licensed retailers and not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensaries.

Ohio based adults over 21 years of age would be required to obtain local precinct voter approval before being licensed to open a marijuana retail store. Much like current alcohol laws, marijuana would not be legally sold to those under the appropriate age.  The amendment calls for up to 1,100 retail locations across the state.

The city of Lorain could stand to take in an estimated $2 million annually, while Elyria could see revenues near $1 million. Colorado, one of four states to have already legalized recreational marijuana, earned roughly $44 million in revenue during its first year of legalization.

“Making marijuana legal would take the industry out of the hands of drug cartels and generate revenue for the state, empty prisons of low risk inmates, and hopefully fund drug and alcohol addiction treatment.” Kestler said.

Medical marijuana will only be sold to patients with a doctor’s recommendation at wholesale prices.

While the whole plant is not approved for any medical uses by the Food and Drug Administration, many states allow the use of medical marijuana for a variety of illnesses and conditions. Several states permit use for chronic pain, severe anxiety and depression, PTSD, and cancer.

“It would be impossible to limit an amount per person,” said Rose Walther, a psychology major at LCCC. “It should be legal for medical reasons only.”

The Marijuana Control Commission would hold the authority to provide financial assistance for those in need.

“There are also many medical benefits that marijuana can help with, such as relieving pain to an illness or disease that isn’t treatable yet,” Wood added.

The guidelines for establishing grow sites, retail locations, and manufacturing and testing facilities include being at least 1,000 feet from schools, publicly owned libraries, day cares and houses of worship. These locations would also have to pass an annual audit from the Marijuana Control Commission.

Up until Feb. 17, Responsible Ohio’s amendment had not included any instances where a person could legally grow their own marijuana plants. However, after receiving criticism, the organization expanded its amendment language to include personally grown plants. It now states that Ohioans would be able to grow up to four plants for private use. These private planters would not be permitted to sell to the public and must be licensed.

That amendment expansion also altered the tax rate for recreational marijuana. Initially, marijuana for recreational uses was to be taxed at a 15 percent flat rate.  Instead, the number has been set to go down to a 5 percent flat tax rate.

Proceeds from the tax on marijuana will be split according to a formula laid out by the new proposition. 55 percent would go to municipal and township governments, 30 percent to county governments, and 15 percent would fund the Marijuana Control Commission to oversee the industry.

“This is a product that is smoked,” Kestler noted. “And some of the very same chemicals that are produced in the smoking of tobacco get produced with marijuana smoking.”

The proposal does not come without concern. To some, health and safety risks are a factor.

“I think it should only be legalized for medicinal purposes,” said Kathryn Durham, a professor of biology at LCCC. “If it is legalized for recreational activity then it could potentially lead to harder drugs and I also worry about people being impaired and driving or doing some other activity that the impairment would impact.”

The federal government considers marijuana a Schedule I substance, meaning it has no medicinal uses and runs a high risk for abuse. Steadily increasing in use among young people since 2007, it is the most common illicit drug in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

In 2013, 13.4 percent of 12 to 17 year olds reported using marijuana in the last year, while 31.6 percent of 18 to 25 year olds reported the same, according to a NIDA study.

“The use of THC in a medical setting has a great deal of promise,” said Kestler. “ Medical use of marijuana is much less of an issue then the recreational use.”

However, when ingested regularly by young people, marijuana can have permanent effects on brain function, like thinking and memory.

Since smoke is an irritant to the lungs, frequent marijuana smokers can have many of the same problems as tobacco users – such as daily cough, more frequent acute chest illness, and heightened risk of lung infections. Marijuana can also raise heart rate by 20 to 100 percent shortly after smoking – effects which can last up to three hours, according to NIDA.

High amounts of marijuana can produce a temporary psychotic reaction – involving hallucinations and paranoia for some users – and can also worsen symptoms for schizophrenic patients. According to NIDA, there are also some links between marijuana use and other mental health syndromes like depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts in adolescents, and personality disturbances such as lack of motivation.

Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is addictive.

“As is the case with alcohol, some individuals will experience debilitating addiction problems,” Kestler noted.

An estimated 9 percent of marijuana users become addicted. That number increases to 17 percent among those who start use young, and up to 25 percent for those who use daily.