VOICES: Current research around Issue 2 is not as clear-cut as some would suggest

Views expressed are our own, and do not represent the views of The Ohio State University or the Moritz College of Law. For more information on Ohio marijuana reform efforts and research, please visit our website.

What would marijuana legalization mean for Ohio? Proponents and opponents of Issue 2 are making their case, pointing to potential tax revenue and a diminished criminal justice footprint on one hand, and possible impacts on youth, workplace accidents, and DUIs on the other. But, as with any complex policy area, the current research is not as clear-cut as some would suggest. While the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center does not take a position on marijuana legalization, we have devoted significant time to studying this topic and can share several observations.

First, even a decade after the first states legalized recreational marijuana, there remains much we do not know. On many important questions, such as impact on youth use, crime rates, DUIs, and other health and safety issues, the evidence remains mixed and at times contradictory, with some studies showing positive impact or no impact, and other studies showing negative repercussions. However, in some areas consensus is emerging, such as the fact that legalization generates significant tax revenue, that heavy marijuana use (particularly of high-potency products) can have detrimental effects on developing brains, and that marijuana possession arrests decrease dramatically post-legalization.

This research should inform policy. For instance, if Ohio votes to legalize recreational marijuana, policymakers should pursue regulations to minimize access to marijuana by teens and young adults, and the state should fund educational campaigns focused on the health risks of high-potency products and driving under the influence. Extensive data collection and rigorous research focused on Ohio will be critical for monitoring Buckeye State experiences with legalization. The ballot initiative earmarks some funding for research, but state and local officials should make concerted efforts to collect key data across several policy areas.

Second, if Ohioans vote in favor of Issue 2, we would be the 24th state in the Union to legalize recreational marijuana. Notably, approximately 50% of the U.S. population already lives in a state with legalized adult-use marijuana, though most states that border Ohio are not among them. Ohio officials can learn from the experiences of other states and adopt regulations that help safeguard public health and public safety. If Issue 2 passes, Ohio policymakers should seek to draw from regulatory best practices emerging from other legalization states.

Third, this year’s marijuana reform effort is not a proposed constitutional amendment, but rather an initiated statute. This means that, should Issue 2 pass, the Ohio General Assembly can make adjustments to address any unintended or unforeseen consequences as the new law and regulations are implemented. For example, Issue 2 allows Ohioans to grow a limited number of marijuana plants at home. Proponents of “home grow” stress the access and cost benefits for medical marijuana patients, but law enforcement in other states express concerns about illicit actors seeking to cloak illegal growing operations in residential settings. Close tracking of the implementation of “home grow” and other regulatory policies, coupled with the Ohio legislature’s wise use of its authority to enact further reforms, will be essential to the state’s ability to create a functional, sustainable, and effective system.

Experiences from other states suggest that after an initial period of uncertainty, new norms and processes develop to compliment the regulatory environment. Legalization of recreational marijuana would require the development of new cultural and societal norms around consumption of marijuana, just as norms have developed around alcohol and tobacco. This will take time — for ordinary citizens, for law enforcement, for medical personnel, and others. Our work studying the experiences of other states suggests that the impacts of legalization — whether good or bad — are never quite as dramatic or as certain as some may claim or predict.

Jana Hrdinová, Administrative Director, Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, The Ohio State University

Douglas A. Berman, Executive Director of the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, Newton D. Baker-Baker & Hostetler Chair in Law, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University

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