How will life change for Ohioans if lawmakers legalize recreational marijuana?
19 News went to a small town in Michigan to ask residents what to expect if Ohio legalizes pot.
MORENCI, MI - When the state of Michigan legalized the recreational use of marijuana, residents of Morenci, a small town just over the Ohio border, were concerned about how life would change.
“We’re just a small town,” said Leslie Plece, the owner of Flats Pub in downtown Morenci. “That’s what we’ve always been.”
Nearly two years after legalization, there have been changes, residents of Morenci say, but many have been positive and a number of their concerns unfounded.
19 News traveled to the town of about 2,000 to find out how the legalization bill changed life for residents after a pair of Republican Ohio representatives last month proposed legislation that, if passed, would legalize the use of recreational marijuana in the Buckeye State.
Downtown Morenci is a cozy throwback to simpler times, and Plece says it’s a place where everybody knows everybody.
That’s until Michigan legalized adult-use cannabis in December of 2019.
“You seen people coming through, construction guys, things taking off. So a lot of questions did start getting asked —'What’s this going to look like’?” said Plece.
“A lot of people thought, this is going to take over the town and everyone is going to be a druggy around here, but I think that’s ridiculous,” said David Green, who used to own a small newspaper.
Today, the downtown remains largely unchanged.
The townsfolk go about their business and acknowledge many of their fears were unfounded.
“Actually, we’ve seen no increase in crime — whether it be DUI or anything that’s a harder crime,” said Morenci’s Mayor Sean Seger.
The flatline on crime in Morenci mirrors that in the 19 other states that have legalized cannabis for adult use.
Seger said the most dramatic, noticeable change has been the economic benefit from tax revenue.
“We tried to do a lot for paving the roads and improving the quality of life for citizens here from the additional monies that we’ve received,” he said.
Michigan, a state with a population similar to Ohio, just announced $81 million dollars in tax revenue for 2020.
It’s on pace to collect a projected $200 million in 2021.
Everyone gets a cut, Morenci included.
“We just got our check from the sales tax sharing from the state. That was $110,000,” said Seger.
That’s roughly 10% of the town’s annual budget.
What municipal leaders are realizing as more data is being returned around the country: the economic benefit from legalization can be real and substantial.
But most importantly, life goes on.
“It’s almost like the ones who weren’t on board, it just seems normal now. Everything’s okay,” said Plece.
Perfect for a small town, that’s just always been here.
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