Home Social Justice Statewide tours let Ohioans hash out opinions about medical marijuana

Statewide tours let Ohioans hash out opinions about medical marijuana

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Two Ohio senators will begin a multistop tour across Ohio on Saturday, where they will speak with Ohioans about their opinions on legalizing medical marijuana.

State senators Dave Burke, R-Marysville, and Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, are leading the discussion. The stops will consist of town hall-style forums that will focus on what those in attendance have to say about decriminalizing marijuana for medical use.  

“This is our chance as legislators to listen to advocates and skeptics and come to an agreement that will benefit people living with difficult medical conditions,” Yuko said in a press release. “A Quinnipiac poll in October showed that 90% of Ohioans support medical marijuana. I am hopeful that these town hall meetings will give many faces to the support we have seen in the polls.”

Ohioans voted against legalizing medical marijuana last November by rejecting Issue 3. If the issue had passed, 10 facilities would have had exclusive rights to grow marijuana, and any person 21 or older in Ohio would have been able to purchase marijuana.

Burke said both he and Yuko do not support the recreational use of marijuana, but they are addressing the issue due to the large amount of public outcry that they have received from their constituents.

“Following the discussions surrounding Issue 3 last November, many Ohioans support having serious talks about medical marijuana,” Burke said in the press release.

Burke has a history in pharmaceuticals and has served on various legislative committees regarding public health. Yuko has advocated for the legalization of medical marijuana throughout his time in office and first introduced a bill to legalize it in 2005, according to a press release.

“Issue 3 would have established an oligarchy that favored the financial interest of a few investors and their friends,” said Michael Hiles, communications director for Legalize Ohio 2016, a pro-marijuana group. “When a single contingency of cannabis activists attempts to dominate the narrative, enough organized opposition exists to push back against the manipulation of the market to keep an even playing field for everyone.

“Ohio is ready for cannabisin fact, Ohio is probably ready for adult use vs. medical only. People want their individual rights, and that is what the cannabis debate has become.”

Despite Issue 3’s failure to pass, the topic of legalizing marijuana has remained in the limelight. In addition to Burke and Yuko’s announced tour, the Ohio House has assembled a task force that will consider legalizing marijuana. The task force is made up of 15 members who vary from former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery to Jimmy Gould, co-founder of the pro-marijuana activist group ResponsibleOhio.

Hiles acknowledged that the legislature trying to gain input from constituents is a good thing but expressed concern about the ethics of some of the practices by individual groups. He pointed to the Ohio Rights Group, a nonprofit group that advocates for medical, therapeutic and industrial legalization of marijuana and how they were involved with the political action committee ResponsibleOhio, as an example.

“We’ve seen the advocacy community fragment along the lines of those who advocate for patients and those who do it with personal gain in mind,” Hiles said. “In particular, last year the Ohio Rights Group capitulated to ResponsibleOhio, who used the patient advocacy community as a battleground by pushing the narrative of getting patients medicine despite the cartel. The same individuals who were part and parcel to ResponsibleOhio are now on the House’s task force, James Gould and Chris Stock. Their Ohio Rights Group advocates are already asking patients to contact them directly instead of the patient going to the task force and town hall meetings directly.”

Despite any issues with the practices of these groups, Hiles believes that 2016 will be the year for Ohio to see initial medical marijuana legislation.

The town hall forums will kick off Saturday at Cleveland State University, with later events to be announced in Toledo, Cincinnati and Columbus.

“This is about quality of life for the elderly, for young kids who are suffering needlessly and the parents that care for them,” Yuko said in the press release. “We need to listen to the voices of the people we represent. I look forward to hearing from more people around the state about what medical marijuana means to them and their families.”

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