Legal pot bills introduced

COLUMBUS – After an unsuccessful attempt last year, state Rep. Bob Hagan reintroduced legislation on Thursday that, if passed, could lead to legalized marijuana in Ohio.

Under Hagan’s proposal, House Bill 153, medical marijuana use would be permissible for patients that qualified and registered with the Ohio Department of Health and receive written confirmation from their physician.

Last year, House Bill 214, a similar attempt by Hagan, failed to make it out of the House’s Health and Aging Committee.

Also, if successful, House Joint Resolution 6 would allow voters to decide whether they want to legalize marijuana for cultivation and recreational use.

If passed, marijuana would be sold in registered state stores similar to the way liquor is distributed, and it would be subject to a 15 percent excise tax.

Already, 18 states and the District of Columbia have permitted regulated, medicinal marijuana use. Colorado and Washington recently legalized recreational use.

“The new revenue the state receives from a marijuana tax could go a long way in restoring cuts to public education and our local governments. Such a significant question should be answered through a constitutional amendment on the ballot. This issue deserves a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote by the people,” a statement from Hagan reads.

Hagan said the evolving views on marijuana nationwide led to his decision.

A Pew Research Center poll from March found 52 percent of Americans now look favorably upon legalizing marijuana.

Still, he expects to fight fierce opposition and misinformation.

“Some conservatives are still thinking it’s a dangerous drug. That it just leads to other drugs,” Hagan said. “That’s been disproven many times.”

Cryshanna Jackson Leftwich, assistant professor of political science at Youngstown State University, said Ohio’s contentious political climate and the traditionally conservative approach state legislators have taken on social issues could inhibit any legalization efforts.

“Legalizing marijuana while, on a national level, even if other states have done it, I don’t think we’re ready. I don’t think we’re that progressive,” Jackson Leftwich said.

Religious and conservative interest groups will have a stronghold on the issue, she said.

“I expect it, I’m sure that I’ll get it,” Hagan said. “People who claim they have some connection to the right or what they think is a message from a higher power, in the same sense they’re the same ones who use negative advertising.”

In Columbus, Hagan contends, there is support from even conservative lawmakers, but the potential risk to their political careers leaves them wary of supporting Hagan’s legislation. He pointed to a 2009 poll conducted by the University of Cincinnati, which found 73 percent of Ohioans favored the idea.

“I don’t see why they would be fearful,” Hagan said. “I’m in favor of taking it to the people and having them vote on it.”

“I know I have a long road to hoe, and long way to go before I get the support I need,” Hagan said. “If Rob Portman starts taking me seriously, he’ll start putting out negative ads.”

Efforts that could be perceived as highly polarizing by some, could negatively affect Hagan’s attempt to run against U.S. Senator Rob Portman in 2016.

Portman, who recently announced his support of same-sex marriage, won plurality votes in 2010 in all but six counties in Ohio, two of which were Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

“He’s the incumbent, and he hasn’t really don’t anything that will lose him his job,” Jackson Leftwich said.