COLUMBUS — Recreational marijuana use is now legal in both Michigan and Illinois, but don't expect that to happen here on Gov. Mike DeWine's watch.
In an interview this week, DeWine said legalizing marijuana for adults would be a mistake. The governor told the Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau that today's marijuana is more potent than in the past and could pose a health risk for young people.
However, Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, disagreed.
"For years, we heard about the 'gateway theory' — that consuming marijuana means you, all of a sudden, want to consume harder drugs," he said. "That's been thoroughly debunked by experts. The real gateway is prohibition. Prohibition forces people into an illicit market where there's a far, far higher chance of them being exposed to harder drugs."
Schweich said regulating marijuana allows states to establish potency limits and ensure products are packaged consistently and sold appropriately. On Jan. 1, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational use of marijuana for people age 21 and older.
Ohio is among the nearly two dozen states that have approved the use of medical marijuana. That program launched in January 2019 with just a few dispensaries and grew to 46 by year's end, with more than $56 million worth of products sold. Schweich said it isn't a far reach to say recreational sales could be an economic driver.
"Has legalization greatly benefited state economies? We can't say that for certain, because economies are complex," he said. "But by all accounts, these legalization laws are creating businesses, creating jobs, generating tax revenues, and I think that's part of the reason voters like these policies."
In states that have legalized marijuana, Schweich said, so far there have been no bills or ballot initiatives to repeal it.
"The proof is in the pudding," he said. "Voters in these states approved these policies, support them, continue to support them. If our opponents were right about this issue, I think we'd see more activity on the repeal front — but instead, we see absolutely none."
While one reform doesn't always lead to another, Schweich said legalizing medical marijuana has helped normalize the issue of marijuana policy reform. In a November 2018 poll from the Pew Research Center, 32 percent of U.S. adults said they oppose marijuana legalization, compared with 52 percent in 2010.