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Ohio Split on Marijuana

The petition to legalize marijuana in Ohio has been a divisive topic, even for those who belong to the same political party, and Wood County Republicans are no exception.

The Northern Wood County Republican Club hosted a debate on the legalization of marijuana Monday at the Way Public Library.

William Stephenson, a Wood County public defender, supported legalization. He argued that using marijuana is a vice and not a crime. He explained that crimes negatively impact other people, whereas a vice only impacts the person who has the vice. He also argued that anything in excess can be bad for someone, but that alone doesn't justify making it illegal.

"We're supposed to be the party of limited government," Stephenson said. "We're supposed to be the party of individual responsibility. We should be focusing on crimes that directly hurt an individual."

He discussed the history of alcohol prohibition, at times breaking off into economics discussions. He used basic supply and demand curves to illustrate how the war on drugs, which he said only reduces the supply of drugs, actually drives up the value of those illegal drugs and encourages more people to sell.

"If you're in a legal business and you're trying to sell a product, if you have a dispute with someone else you take them to court," Stephenson said. "If what you're selling is illegal, you're going to solve your disputes with gun battles and innocent people will be caught in the crossfire."

Tony Coder, assistant director for the Drug Free Action Alliance, took the opposing stance. He argued there are more choices available than just legalizing marijuana or keeping it illegal. He said he supports researching the medicinal benefits of marijuana, but the process should be the same as it is for any other medicine.

"I'm more of a drug policy reform guy," he said. "When there are tweaks to be made, we make those changes and come up with a better law. If drug policy is something we want to take a look at, then we need to work at it from a public health and public safety standpoint."

He said legalizing marijuana won't do anything to reduce the prison population or racial disparities in arrests. He argued that putting more money into drug education and prevention programs would do more to reduce the prison population than legalization.

Coder also argued that the danger with legalizing marijuana is that it leads to commercialization, which puts children at risk.

"It's created a market in Colorado that makes it easier for children to be enticed by edibles like gummy bears, like suckers, like candy bars," Coder said. "We've already seen children in Colorado, especially under the age of five, the increase in poisonings from eating these gummies has increased 147 percent in a year."

He argued that it makes it harder for employers to enforce a drug policy and maintain a drug-free work environment. He quoted statistics of increased workplace accidents in Colorado and Washington and cited examples of employers being sued after firing employees using medicinal marijuana.

"If you're an employer, this is something that should scare the living heck out of you," Coder said.

While Coder and Stephenson disagreed on almost every point, they did find common ground on one issue. Both men agreed that legalizing marijuana through a constitutional amendment is the wrong way to approach the issue.

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