Congressional Democratic candidates didn’t all agree on legal weed, and differed on gun control and the minimum wage

The four Democratic candidates for the 8th Congressional District talked on Tuesday to around 50 community members during the Butler County Democratic Party’s forum at the Miami Hamilton Downtown Center on High Street in Hamilton. The four are seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination in the May 8 primary election. Candidates include, starting clockwise, Vanessa Enoch of West Chester Twp., Matthew Guyette of Greenville, Ted Jones of Piqua and Bill Ebben of West Chester Twp. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF
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The four Democratic candidates for the 8th Congressional District talked on Tuesday to around 50 community members during the Butler County Democratic Party’s forum at the Miami Hamilton Downtown Center on High Street in Hamilton. The four are seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination in the May 8 primary election. Candidates include, starting clockwise, Vanessa Enoch of West Chester Twp., Matthew Guyette of Greenville, Ted Jones of Piqua and Bill Ebben of West Chester Twp. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

Four Democratic candidates seeking to be the party’s 8th Congressional District nominee covered a wide breadth of topics at a forum Tuesday night.

Bill Ebben, of West Chester Twp., Vanessa Enoch, of West Chester Twp., Matthew Guyette, of Greenville, and Ted Jones, of Piqua, are seeking to the party’s nomination and was at the likely only forum will all four candidates will be together on the same stage ahead of the May 8 primary election.

All agreed there is a need for some level of reform with the North American Free Trade Agreement — the trade agreement among the United States, Mexico and Canada — and agree on there need for a pathway to citizenship where undocumented and non-citizens can become tax-paying citizens.

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But they didn’t all agree on all topics, including legalizing marijuana, and they had different opinions on other topics, such as gun control, student debt and raising the minimum wage.

Former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, who represented the 8th Congressional District for 25 years, said he has “evolved” in his position on cannabis helping veterans and to reverse the opioid epidemic. A decade earlier, Boehner was “unalterably opposed” to legalization.

The candidates were asked if they believe removing marijuana as a Scheduled I drug on the federal level is a step in the right direction.

“Mr. Boehner has been freed by not being in office anymore to say what he really believes,” said Guyette. “I also believe that medical marijuana is useful. If the citizens of Ohio voted to decriminalize it, I’d be in favor of it.”

Enoch said “at a minimum” the country needs to decriminalize marijuana, “and part of that is ensuring the mass incarceration issue.

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“The problem with mass incarceration is many of the individuals serving time are serving time due to status offenses whereby they were criminalized with maximum sentences, and also three strikes policies,” she said. “A lot of them had minor offenses, like marijuana offenses.”

Ebben said marijuana should have never been a Scheduled I drug, “but I don’t agree with the idea that marijuana could affect the means to combat opioid addiction.”

”The premise that opioid addicts are using opioids just to get high and can substitute THC (in marijuana) is just wrong-headed and misses the point that the opioid addiction is a medical problem,” he said.

Jones supports the use of medical marijuana.

“The studies have shown it’s been useful,” he said. “Maybe it can be another tool in the tool box to curb opioid addiction.”

Candidates were also asked the federal government’s role in balancing the Second Amendment with “legitimate government need to provide students with a safe learning environment.”

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Enoch borrowed a statement from her daughter and said, “Please do not arm my teacher.”

“I think that is the worse policy recommendation that’s ever been proposed by the legislature,” she said. “I believe we need to have sensible gun legislation. We need to take away the ability for ordinary citizens to use military-grade fire arms and also the accessories that also make fire arms military-grade.”

Guyette and Jones said they support universal background checks and a limit on high-capacity magazines, as well as other measures outlawing bump stocks. Jones said it’s not about the Second Amendment, but rather “this is about control and access to firearms.”

“The Second Amendment was about militias,” Guyette said. “There were no police force, no military back then so everybody had to be armed. We’re in a different day and age. That’s not what the Second Amendment was meant for.”

Ebben, an attorney, said there are “some really bogus interpretations” of the Second Amendment.

“These people with these semi-automatics, they’re trying to get machine guns,” he said. “I say if you need a semi-automatic to shoot rabbits, you probably take dynamite for fishing.”

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Ebben, Enoch and Jones all would like to see a higher minimum wage.

“I defiantly think the federal minimum wage needs to be raised to accommodate people across the board, even with the understanding that the cost of living is different in different places,” Enoch said.

Ebben said the minimum wage should be tethered to the poverty level, and “today it should be closer to $15 an hour and it should be indexed to the poverty level.”

“If we want people to work, we’ve got to make sure the minimum wage keeps them out of the poverty level,” he said.

Jones said not only should there be an increased minimum wage, but there should be an increase to the minimum wage for any prevailing wage work “for any jobs that are associated with federally financed projects.”

But Guyette believes states should be setting the minimum wages, but raising the minimum wage is just “a Band-Aid solution.”

“The wages are low right now is not because of the minimum wage, but it’s because of automation and outsourcing,” Guyette said. “And until we deal with the kind of protection we’re providing to overseas manufacturing, causing it to go over there, we’re not going to see those high-paying jobs come back over here.”