Dennis Kucinich, Candidate For Ohio Governor, Says Legalizing Marijuana Can Help With Opioid Crisis

Photo Credit: Andrew J. Tobias

Democratic candidate for governor Dennis Kucinich wants to fully legalize marijuana, a move he said would have positive implications for criminal justice, agriculture and even the state’s ongoing opioid crisis.

Kucinich unveiled a sweeping marijuana plan on Wednesday, calling for allowing medical-marijuana patients to grow their own plants, fully legalizing recreational marijuana for adults, as well as legalizing the production of hemp, the less-potent cannabis strain with industrial and commercial applications.

He said expanding medical marijuana research could help develop alternatives for opioid painkillers, which have played a central role in the state’s drug-addiction crisis. Medical research has suggested marijuana holds promise both as a way to manage pain and to help limit opioid use.

He also criticized the state for mishandling setting up the medical marijuana program approved by state lawmakers and Gov. John Kasich in 2016.

“Every day that Ohioans go without access to medical cannabis, the state adds to its body count of opioid overdose deaths, many of which started with a legal prescription for painkillers,” Kucinich said.

Kucinich’s plan closely hues to the wish-list of activists who have tried, and failed, to legalize marijuana and help in Ohio for years.  It also puts him at odds with Richard Cordray, his main opponent in the Democratic race for governor. Cordray has said he is in favor of the state’s medical marijuana program, but believes that voters should decide whether the state should fully legalize the drug. The other leading Democratic candidates for governor, Bill O’Neill, the former Ohio Supreme Court justice and State Sen. Joe Schiavoni both support legalizing recreational marijuana.

But in a phone interview, Schiavoni said Kucinich is over-promising, which he said is a common feature of his campaign.

“I think we need to get this medical system established, and move into recreational in the future,” Schiavoni said. “… I don’t think the Republicans in the General Assembly are ready or willing to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. I’m for it, and as governor, I would work with both sides to move the ball forward.”

Kucinich announced his plan in front of 50 or so activists who filled a classroom for the Cleveland School of Cannabis in Independence, a recently opened state-certified school that trains people for careers related to Ohio’s fledgling medical-marijuana industry. Kucinich, a former congressman and Cleveland mayor, has long supported legalizing marijuana, and was a keynote speaker at the 2011 Seattle Hempfest.

Asked what makes his proposal different from the one Ohio voters rejected in 2015, Kucinich said his is “the most comprehensive plan” ever offered by an Ohio candidate. He also threw in a subtle dig at Cordray for good measure.

“Granted, the people here are supportive, but in the broader public, this is an idea whose time has come and in some ways, it’s long overdue,” Kucinich said. “For those who say whatever the people say, let the people decide, this is a time for leadership. People are looking for a leader to step forward and say, let’s lead with compassion. Let’s lead with common sense. Let’s lead with integrity. Let’s lead with courage. And that’s who I am.”

Click here to see Kucinich’s full plan.