If you’re like 87 percent of Ohio voters, you think people should be able to use marijuana as medicine. But nearly all of your elected officials disagree with you.
Enter Ed FitzGerald, the struggling Democratic candidate for governor. FitzGerald supports legalizing medical marijuana, he told The Enquirer Wednesday, breaking with nearly all Republicans and most Democrats in a stance that could help give his campaign energy among younger voters.
“There are people that are suffering from conditions that medical marijuana can alleviate, especially those chronic pain types of conditions,” FitzGerald said in a telephone interview. “I just think it would show a real lack of compassion if we would continue to deny them that access.”
Gov. John Kasich, who has a 6- to 19-point lead over FitzGerald in independent polls, says he opposes legalizing medical marijuana because the overall medical community has remained reticent on the issue.
That’s the stance all Republican officials and most Democrats have taken, hesitant to endorse what’s viewed in some circles as complicity with drug use.
So FitzGerald’s support likely won’t be enough for Ohio to change course and join 23 other states that have legalized medical marijuana, said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports marijuana legalization.
“It’s always nice to have candidates for statewide office endorse the legalization of medical marijuana, but I don’t see that it’s going to make much of a difference now, from what I understand about the state of the gubernatorial race in Ohio,” Nadelmann said of FitzGerald’s stance. “I think what we most need to see is John Kasich come out in support.”
The top of the ticket
A majority of Republicans polled in February told Quinnipiac University pollsters they supported medical marijuana. But Kasich says the doctors he’s consulted don’t support legalizing medical marijuana in Ohio, so neither will he.
This spring, Kasich addressed an Enquirer report that told the story of two little girls with seizures, whose parents say they’re desperate to see whether medical cannabis would help their daughters, even to the point of considering an out-of-state move to get access to the medicine.
“I’d do anything for kids,” Kasich told The Enquirer’s editorial board in March. “But we’ve got to do what’s medically recommended by people who have gone to medical school and have a license.”
The American Medical Association continues to call cannabis “a dangerous drug” and “public health concern” and opposes legalizing the sale of marijuana, although it has called for clinical studies on marijuana as a medicine.
But FitzGerald said he views most of that hesitance as related to legalizing pot for recreational use.
“As long as it’s done under the supervision of a doctor … I think the risks associated with medical marijuana are outweighed by the benefits,” he said.
FitzGerald’s support for medical marijuana could help to bring supporters out to vote, a must now that his campaign has fizzled, said Gene Beaupre, a politics professor at Xavier University. But the campaign would have to focus on the stance in social media or direct mail, he said.
“It’s something from a campaign strategy point of view that’s worth doing, but I wouldn’t say it’s going to swing the day on Election Day,” Beaupre said.
Other candidates’ stances
Fellow Democrat David Pepper, the Anderson Township Democrat running for attorney general, also supports legalizing medical marijuana. He views it as a way to cut down on prescription painkillers, which can lead to overdoses.
Republican incumbent Attorney General Mike DeWine, who is leading Pepper in polls, is more reticent to support medical cannabis.
“I understand the potential benefits for cancer patients, but would want to talk with doctors and hear a specific plan before taking a position,” DeWine said in a statement.
Even if FitzGerald or Pepper were to be elected, a bill would have to get through the Legislature to legalize medical use of cannabis. All such legislation has failed to receive support from more than a handful of lawmakers in either party. Among candidates for next year’s Ohio General Assembly, the group of those who have spoken out in favor of legalizing medical marijuana appears to be limited to three Republicans and four Democrats.
That group includes Micah Kamrass, the Sycamore Township Democrat running for the 28th Ohio House district in northeast Hamilton County. He supports legalizing cannabis for medical use, “if it’ll make sure that people can get the care that they need when they’re really ill,” he said.
Charlie Winburn, the Republican Cincinnati city councilman running for the Ohio Senate’s Ninth District, said he’s leaning toward supporting the legalization of marijuana under a doctor’s care — “especially to help relieve pain and suffering caused from cancer or glaucoma.”
Kamrass’ opponent, Madeira Republican Jonathan Dever, said the issue should be left to “the voters of Ohio and the medical community.”
Winburn’s opponent, North Avondale Democrat Cecil Thomas, could not be reached for comment.
Could it pass?
Lacking legislative support, proponents of medical marijuana have started circulating three separate constitutional amendments. The Ohio Rights Group, whose amendment has the most momentum, has gathered only 100,000 of the required 385,000 signatures needed to put the amendment on the November ballot. So the group is now targeting the November 2015 ballot.
But so far, the group lacks the millions of dollars it would need to pay signature-gatherers to help it complete the process more quickly. That doesn’t include money for an advertising campaign if the amendment does qualify for the ballot.
Ohio Rights Group members had hoped for an investment from well-funded national groups. So far, the two main national groups, the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance, aren’t putting money in Ohio’s efforts, spokesmen said.
“We have other higher-priority states right now. Ohio’s an expensive state to do a ballot initiative in,” said Nadelmann, of the Drug Policy Alliance. “In the absence of more significant funding coming from within the state, raising money for this sort of ballot initiative is an uphill struggle.”
Even if FitzGerald loses the November election, his support for the issue could help boost its prospects statewide, politics professor Beaupre said.
“A campaign is to bring ideas to the surface and have debates and discussions about them,” Beaupre said. “That’s a good thing.” ■
How it could get done
Ballot initiative: Of the three approved ballot initiatives, the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment has the most momentum. It would allow the use, possession and production of cannabis for those diagnosed with a qualifying disease. It would also allow individuals and companies to produce and sell hemp.
Bill: Would allow patients with qualifying diseases to register to be able to grow or use cannabis for medicinal purposes at a doctor’s recommendation. The bill received one committee hearing last year and is not likely to advance.
Joint resolution: Would legalize marijuana use – recreational or medicinal – for anyone age 21 or older. Driving under the influence would remain illegal. The resolution received a committee hearing last year and is not likely to advance.
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This story is the first in an ongoing series.
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