Weighing the aspects of pot legalization - 21 News Now, More Local News for Youngstown, Ohio -

Weighing the aspects of pot legalization

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State Rep Bob Hagan wants voters in Ohio to determine if adults over age 21 should be allowed to legally use marijuana. He says if it were a gateway drug there would be 100 million addicts in our country.

"Nobody wants to go from smoking pot one night to sticking a needle in your vein the next or snorting crack cocaine or meth and losing your teeth and our mind and family as well. Again, the numbers just don't match," Hagan said.

Ken MacPhearson, who is a member of LEAP or Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, but not in law enforcement, once believed the argument but now believes prohibition itself and hiding from addiction problems is the gateway leading to overdose deaths and violent crimes.

He said if addiction is no longer a crime people won't be afraid to seek help.

"The same argument you use for it being a gateway drug you can use against prohibition and say prohibition is the cause of these drugs, prohibition is the cause of these addicts," he said.

Jeff Solic leader of the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force, who has waged a war against illegal narcotics for 16 years, said studies may vary, but the answers he gets from addicts hooked on heroin and harder drugs do not.

Solic says only about four say they didn't start on marijuana.

"When hundreds say, 'I started out on marijuana and it progressed to other drugs, you have to assume it's a gateway drug,'" Solic said.

Jeff Orr, the project commander of the Trumbull Ashtabula Group, who has been on the streets and undercover in the war against drugs taking heroin, meth, crack and dealers of other illegal narcotics off the streets for 21 years, is adamantly against legalization saying he has witnessed the devastating impact on people and families.

"It's a drug kids feel safe because it's what their peers are sharing with them and so they're going to try and experiment as a starter drug thinking they'll never take the next step to a harder drug," Orr said

Trumbull Prosecutor Dennis Watkins said many of the people prosecuted for violent crimes have been under the influence of marijuana or pot. He told 21 News, it was the admitted drug of choice for Chuckie Lorraine, who a jury sentenced to death row for murdering an elderly couple who had befriended him.

"Chuckie Lorraine drugs made me do it when he confessed to murdering two senior citizens. The three marine recruits ...  the man that was sentenced Williams for killing individuals under influence and was subsequently tested and had marijuana in his system. He went to prison for marijuana trafficking we can go through a pletheora of cases," Watkins said.

But Representative Hagan said if that were the case there would be a lot more people addicted to hard drugs, including some influential leaders.

"You have a president of the United States that admitted to smoking pot. You had a U.S. senator Rob Portman and this state representative will admit to you, I smoked pot," Hagan said.

Task force members said legalizing drugs in other states is already creating organized crime and a new demand for these stolen drugs on our streets.

Prosecutor Watkins said the legalization of marijuana will be a gateway for people pressing for legalization of other potentially deadly drugs.

However, some supporters of legalization insist that is what should happen so treatment will be the focus and lives will be saved.

Polls show a majority of residents in Ohio are against legalization for recreational use but favor for medical reasons.

For more on this story and additional quotes click here.

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