The blunt reality: who really profits from marijuana legalization?

Ohio has legalized adult-use marijuana, with the passage of Issue 2, but critics are concerned about the lack of language addressing individuals prosecuted or incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses, and the potential for increased policing and incarceration. The post The blunt reality: who really profits from marijuana legalization? appeared first on The Cincinnati Herald .

The blunt reality: who really profits from marijuana legalization?

By Nia Thomas

Manager of Social Justice at the Holloman Center Cincinnati

Ohio has officially joined the ranks of states legalizing adult-use marijuana, with the passage of Issue 2, a significant ballot initiative. This move positions Ohio as the 24th state to embrace the legalization of recreational marijuana for adults aged 21 and above. The new statute allows adults to have or buy up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana flower and 15 grams of extract.

Despite the celebration of legalization, critics on all sides predict long-term effects which may create more harm than good. Some critics voice concerns around conflict-of-interest issues since a large portion of campaign funding came from companies and investors who stand to financially benefit from legalization.    

Others criticize the lack of language addressing folks prosecuted or incarcerated for marijuana related offenses. Shockingly, since 2018, there have been over 53,000 arrests for marijuana-related offenses in Ohio alone, according to data from the NORML Foundation. Most of these cases involved possession alone. This issue is especially alarming since champions for legalization are excited to begin a new era given the historical racial disparities in drug enforcement. Yet, advocates and scholars are left asking the age-old question, “Is this truly equitable or another attempt to fix a history of harm through blanket equality?”

The estimated $218 million in tax revenue is reserved for various projects including the social equity and jobs fund and addiction services. However, this budget falls short of addressing the racial disparities that have persisted over the 80 years of marijuana prohibition and the failed “War on Drugs”. The costs associated with marijuana arrests, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, do not encompass the limitless ramifications for communities of color, affecting social and economic mobility. A single marijuana offense has the power to make a local college student lose federal aid or stop a single parent from passing background checks for a new job or apartment. The statute currently lacks provisions for release, exoneration, expungement, or record sealing for individuals impacted by marijuana-related offenses. 

Despite Issue 2 passing, control remains with Ohio lawmakers, who can modify, repeal, or replace the initiated statute since it is not a constitutional amendment. Governor Mike DeWine has signaled his desire for changes focused on preventing impaired driving, limiting public smoke exposure, and protecting children from advertisements and accidental consumption. For communities of color, this may foreshadow increased police presence and potential over enforcement. The most alarming proposal came from House Speaker Jason Stephens who believes tax revenue should go towards “investing in county jail construction and funding law enforcement training”. The argument claims that policing and incarceration increase community safety, but this view is contradicted by America’s stats as the leader in both homicide and incarceration rates globally. The Council on Foreign Relations confirms this citing America’s disproportionately larger number of police forces compared to other advanced democracies. A point furthered by the Vera Institute’s study proving “more incarceration will not make us safer”. History has demonstrated the prison industrial complex does more to harm our communities than it does to repair.

While extreme actions like repealing the law seem unlikely due to widespread bipartisan support, questions about restorative justice continue. There is little to heal the wounds caused by mass incarceration but the cause for restorative justice remains strong. The power remains in the hands of the communities represented by the Ohio Legislature. The community can support the Center for Social Justice’s call for equity by contacting their representatives and urging them to incorporate restorative justice provisions such as reinvesting revenue into previous marijuana offenders and their communities, record expungement, record sealing, and release from incarceration in the law’s final version. The future of marijuana is being designed as we speak. How will you steer our community’s transformation?

The post The blunt reality: who really profits from marijuana legalization? appeared first on The Cincinnati Herald .