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Pros and cons of legalizing marijuana

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - State Representative Bob Hagan says our country's longest running war on drugs has failed.

He has introduced a bill to make it legal for anyone over the age of 21 to use marijuana.

Hagan, who is subject to random drug tests as a Locomotive Engineer, says making criminals out of recreational pot smokers is a waste of jail space and tax revenue.

"You're talking about $26,000 for minimum security, almost 60,000 now for maximum security in our prisons. Is that what taxpayers want to do?" Hagan says.

He has offered a 15 percent tax on marijuana so people who need help for addiction to drugs associated with violence like crack cocaine and heroin can receive treatment.

Ken MacPhearson who has been anti-drug since the Reagan era says he is still anti-drug but now anti-prohibition after addiction claimed relatives lives.

McPhearson, who is a member of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition or LEAP, says keeping kids away from drugs in the number one reason to change strategies.

"By pushing these drugs into nefarious areas, the black market what LEAP says is whatever drug you want dealt by a 14-year-old prohibit that drug. It makes it easier for kids to get heroin and marijuana than to get beer and cigarettes," MacPhearson says.

LEAP believes prohibition fuels violence on the black market and believes legalization will help free up police to pursue violent criminals.

Lt. Jeff Orr with the Trumbull Ashtabula Group, who has been fighting the war on drugs for more than two decades, says it's nonsense that jails are filled with people who use pot.

Orr adds under Ohio laws, the punishment for possessing pot is similar to that for violating a traffic or parking ordinance unless you're on parole.

"They don't go to jail for simple possession unless it's what you see laid out on this table," Orr says.

Currently under Ohio law, if you have ten pounds of marijuana, you most likely wont go to prison unless youre selling it.

Lt. Jeff Solic who leads the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force says legalizing and taxing marijuana use won't end violence associated with drugs and organized crime, but has already created new drugs that criminals steal from other states and traffic on our streets.

"The price of marijuana has gone up. It's created a market place for the designer name marijuana cush and orange crush," Solic says.

They add counties can't keep up with regulating septic systems or restaurant food services and now someone will have to check and tax people's pot plants saying this doesn't make sense.

Trumbull Prosecutor Dennis Watkins says laws are lax enough for marijuana users now, adding when he began as a prosecutors in the 70s, the penalties ranged from 20 to 40 years.

He and others believe making marijuana legal will give the impression it's OK to use.

"It's still going to cause a problem for people who can't afford it and you don't put poison on the streets for people to consume. It's nonsense," Watkins says.

Hagan says private companies could still set a no drug policy and testing for workers that nothing in that area would change.

Lt. Orr says law enforcement hasn't lost the war on drugs that more money is needed for treatment.

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