Marijuana Legalization Discussion Draws Crowd

March 24, 2014

ALLIANCE, Ohio— A distinguished panel of professionals recently visited the University of Mount Union’s campus to discuss the social and legal implications of marijuana legalization.

Wilson Huhn, Michael Uth and John D. Ferrero, spoke in front of an audience that was overflowing into the hallway with students trying to hear what they had to say. According to the statistic provided by Dr. Jack DeSario, professor of political science and director of legal studies at Mount Union, this interest should be viewed as no shock as 52% of Americans are now in favor of the legalization of marijuana. With 20 states permitting medicinal and two states allowing recreational use, the acceptance rate of marijuana is quickly growing. Now that the majority of Americans are in favor of legalization, it is important that they know what exactly they are getting themselves into. Huhn, Uth and Ferrero publicly discussed their opinions in a debate that showcased the best of each argument.

Huhn is the Director of the Constitutional Law Center at the University of Akron. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University and a Juris Doctorate degree from Cornell University. He has written many articles regarding constitutional law issues and the two-volume book, “American Constitutional Law.” He kicked off the panel presentation with some facts on the constitutional rights potentially associated with marijuana. In 1970, Congress banned the use of marijuana. Now, in 2014, there is still no right granting its use for recreational purposes. It is not FDA approved, so there is not a law allowing physicians to prescribe it. Some use an argument that its use is mandated by religion. There is no constitutional right to smoke marijuana for religious purposes, however there may be an argument under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Uth is a Board Member of the American Civil Liberties Union. He obtained a Juris Doctorate degree from Emory University. He is a senior lawyer and manager for Progressive Insurance’s Law Department. Uth opened with a story about English soccer fans visiting Lisbon for a game. The police were incredibly worried about the English fans coming in and drunkenly starting riots, as that was what the typical English soccer fan did. So the Lisbon Police Department did something unusual – in order to prevent drunken riots, they decided to change their substance abuse law for the duration of the game. Rather than put a ban on alcohol, they temporarily lifted the ban on marijuana use. The majority of the fans ended up using the lesser of the two substances – marijuana – and there were no riots.

Next, Uth went on to speak about the benefits of medical marijuana including its ability to provide relief for diseases such as cancer, AIDS and glaucoma. He also said that marijuana causes fewer side effects than other illegal drugs. He shared several stories meant to make the audience members see why legalization is the morally right thing. Even though more and more Americans are jumping on the bandwagon, Uth acknowledged that “The war on drugs is not just a metaphor, it is an actual war with soldiers, spies and casualties… it is far from over. In many cases other than marijuana, it is being fought harder than ever.”

Ferrero is the Prosecuting Attorney for Stark County. He has handled thousands of criminal cases in his 25 years of experience, 10 being in Stark County. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Dayton and a Juris Doctorate Degree from Ohio Northern University. Ferrero represented the government perspective on legalization. He made sure to point out the obvious – that pros and cons are everywhere. He did say that two articles caught his eye. One was about California Governor Jerry Brown who said that “he is not sure legalizing pot is a good idea because the country could lose its competitive edge if too many people are getting stoned.” The other article is about Patrick Kennedy who is a recovered addict. He has completely changed his view on marijuana. Ferrero found these articles interesting because these are people who he thought were very liberal and open-minded.

Also, Ferrero went through the common arguments in support of laws against marijuana use. He brought to question whether legalizing it would actually end crimes. Many crimes are drug and alcohol related, and they would most likely occur at a similar rate if marijuana was legalized. He said that this is a gateway drug, and would lead to worse crimes and more illegal activity.

To sort out the differing opinions of Uth and Ferrero, Huhn spoke on behalf of society. “America has an addiction problem,” Huhn said. “We have to have a solution for this problem. We have to decide on a policy for our country, and we cannot base it on emotion or anecdotes. We need to use sociological research and logic.”

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