In a recent speech, Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill called for lawmakers in his state to legalize and tax adult use cannabis.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill recently voiced his support for legalizing and regulating marijuana in a speech in front of the Wayne County Democratic Party.
“The time has come for new thinking,” said O’Neill. “We regulate and tax alcohol and tobacco and imprison people for smoking grass.”
O’Neill also said in his speech that he wants to release all non-violent marijuana offenders. Doing so, and legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana, would generate an estimated $350 million in revenue for the state. He pointed out the success of legalization in states like Colorado, which pulled in $200 million in marijuana tax revenue last year.
That additional revenue, he said, could be used to manage Ohio’s opioid addiction problem. According to the Ohio Department of Health, Ohio’s death rate due to unintentional drug poisonings increased 642 percent between 2000 and 2015. The department reports that the surge in deaths is largely driven by opioid-related overdoses.
In what would indicate a different approach to addiction for Ohio, O’Neill also said in the speech that he wants the Ohio Department of Mental Health to reopen its network of state hospitals that had closed decades ago.
“Treat addiction like the disease it is in the name of compassion,” he said.
The justice said he believes the Democratic Party needs to present new ideas before the midterm elections in 2018 if it’s going to take seats away from the Republicans, who control all branches in Ohio and in the U.S.
O’Neill is currently the only Democrat holding an Ohio statewide office. He announced earlier this year that he is considering stepping down from his position to pursue a run for governor and that he plans to make a decision closer to the end of the year. John Kasich, the current Ohio Governor, is opposed to marijuana legalization and has been hesitant to even partake in a discussion about loosening the law.
As of now, possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana in Ohio is classified as a “minor misdemeanor” and punishable by a maximum fine of $150. Last fall, several communities in Central Ohio passed initiatives to decriminalize marijuana possession.
The most recent poll, conducted in 2015, found that 53 percent of Ohio voters support legalizing “small amounts of marijuana for personal use.” That year voters in Ohio were presented with a ballot initiative that would legalize adult use marijuana, but they soundly rejected the measure.
Eight U.S. states have passed laws legalizing and regulating recreational marijuana. With nationwide public attitudes shifting toward marijuana acceptance, a recent market research report suggested that legalization could expand to all 50 states by 2021.