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Medical Marijuana Debated in Columbus

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 at 9:55 AM

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Dominic Simpson / Flickr

Medical marijuana didn't make the ballot this year, with supporters falling well short of the signatures they needed to get it before voters. But the issue will be back -- soon. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler moderated a debate this week in Columbus between a passionate supporter of medical marijuana and a strong opponent.

Robert Ryan of Cincinnati heads the Ohio chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws—known as NORML. He’s a cancer survivor who used marijuana during his treatment. And he says with the benefits that medical marijuana can offer, there’s no reason is shouldn’t be legal, especially when alcohol is.

“There has not been one single person in recorded history who has died from marijuana,” Ryan said. “It’s physiologically impossible. Not so with alcohol.”

Paul Coleman is the president and CEO of the Columbus rehab facility Maryhaven. He said 9 percent of those who use marijuana will become addicted. And he said with that risk, plus the lack of studies showing marijuana’s effectiveness as a medical treatment, there’s no reason to take a chance on legalizing pot.

“Why in our society today, with all the challenges we face, would we want to legalize a second intoxicant, a second psychoactive drug?” Coleman said.

Coleman obviously opposes legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but Ryan isn’t a big backer of that either, though NORML supports laws that allow for all kinds of personal use of pot. They agreed that if medical marijuana is legalized, people who aren’t qualified patients will get some of that pot. Coleman calls it “leakage.”

“If it is legal for medical purposes, there will be leakage, not only in the community, but look at the states that surround those states with medical marijuana,” he said. “They are seeing it being brought in.”

But Ryan said the leakage is happening already, not just across state lines, but at the international borders, where there’s violence, crime and suffering.

“Marijuana is 60 percent of the drug cartel’s product,” Ryan said. “I say legalize it, tax it, control it, have ID cards, and put the thugs out of business.”

A Quinnipiac poll in February showed 87 percent of Ohio voters support medical marijuana, and there are reports that a well-funded campaign is coming, modeled after the successful drive that casino backers made to the ballot. Interestingly, Ryan said the backers of this plan haven’t called on his group.

“I am not aware of any direct contact with NORML from this organization,” he said. “I have very tangential knowledge of what they’re proposing. I have quite some issues with it.”

Coleman said he and other opponents will continue to try to educate people if that issue does come to the ballot, and suggested that would-be voters be suspicious of a well-funded group pushing legalized pot.

“We can begin that by my asking all of you to do what I know you would do on any issue that is being well-funded for the ballot,” Coleman said. “Ask yourself who is funding it and why.”

Organizers working on this plan say a ballot issue might be possible next year or in 2016.

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