At age 16, Dave Fitzgerald would take the short jaunt from his home in New Bedford to the Ohio line to buy beer.

That’s because unlike Pennsylvania, where the legal drinking age has been 21 since the 1930s, 18-year-olds at the time could legally buy beer in Ohio.

If Ohioans vote to legalize recreational marijuana during the Nov. 7 general election, Fitzgerald, 67, expects to see a similar exodus of Pennsylvanians to the Buckeye State to buy cannabis.

“There will be a lot of people going to get it,” said the owner of Fitzgerald’s Auto Service on Hillsville Road in Pulaski Township. “I don’t see why it would hurt people. Some say it helps (with medical issues).”

“I’ll stick with my beer,” he joked.

Ohio could soon join 23 states and Washington, D.C. if voters approve Issue 2 on the statewide ballot. A majority vote would legalize recreational marijuana for anyone 21 and older.

That includes growing, selling and possessing up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis, according to the ballot issue.

Five states bordering Pennsylvania — New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland — currently allow recreational sales. Pennsylvania and West Virginia allow sales of medical marijuana for approved patients.

Ohioans would also be allowed to keep up to six cannabis plants per adult, or up to 12 for two adults.

The legislation would also levy an additional 10 percent sales tax on cannabis products, on top of existing state and local sales taxes. Revenues would fund public safety, road improvements, drug treatment and prevention and investments into communities disproportionately impacted by Ohio’s marijuana policy.

Rebecca Abramson, executive director for Lawrence County Drug and Alcohol Commission, said legalizing recreational marijuana in Ohio will impact the community.

“We’re so close,” Abramson said. “Geographically we are sitting right next to (Ohio).”

The approval of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania has affected the state, she added.

“This will further impact us,” said Abramson, whose government agency oversees drug and alcohol prevention, intervention and recovery services.

Attempts to reach Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa were unsuccessful.

In Springfield, Ohio, two miles west of Bessemer, barber John Jandrokovich said he will likely vote against legalizing recreational cannabis.

“I think if you are driving a car and smoking marijuana, it’s just like drinking beer and driving,” Jandrokovich said Wednesday.

The 76-year-old believes the measure will pass.

“The way the country is now, they will vote for it,” he said.

Ten years ago, probably not.

“We were more religious and parents didn’t approve,” said the owner of Johnny’s Barber Shop. “Now the parents are smoking it.”

He expects legalization will bring Pennsylvanians to Ohio and the tax will help pay for road improvements.

“But I don’t think it will help society,” Jandrokovich said.

John Davis of nearby New Middletown, Ohio, as of Wednesday remained undecided about his vote but does plan to vote on the question.

“I’m sure it will be legalized,” Davis said. “When drug addicts speak about how they got started with drugs, they say ‘marijuana,’ but I know from a medical standpoint, there are benefits.”

Nina Heaney has realized those benefits. Marijuana helped her overcome an addiction to painkillers.

“I believe there are a lot of benefits with marijuana,” said the 39-year-old Edinburg woman, who favors legalization in Ohio.

“It helped me make the transition.”

The kitchen manager and prep cook at the Branding Iron bar and grill in Edinburg, Heaney can legally buy medical marijuana from a dispensary, but she also buy from people she trusts.

Jakki Gardner, a New Castle home improvement contractor and owner of JAK TRADES, supports legalization in Ohio. She has relatives who rely on cannabis for medical treatment. They also rely on dealers.

“I don’t smoke it anymore,” Gardner said. “But I have seen significant benefits with friends. My mom has chronic back pain and has had multiple fusions.”

She said her mother has found relief from THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana.

“It’s not always about getting high,” Gardner said.

She hopes to one day see the legalization of hallucinogenic mushrooms for their medical benefits. According to the National Cancer Institute, they can be used to treat lung disease and cancer.

John Shaffer, a steel fabricator from Pulaski Township, feels confident that folks will travel to Ohio if cannabis is legalized. He also doesn’t expect to see it legalized in Pennsylvania anytime soon.

“Pennsylvania is a commonwealth and as a commonwealth (they are slower to change),” said the 51-year-old, who does not use marijuana products. “The still abide by Blue Laws.”

Blue laws were enacted nationwide to preserve the Lord’s Day for prayer and rest. Pennsylvania had plenty of them, one of which early on made it a crime to play baseball or football on Sundays.

Shaffer believes, however, that legalized marijuana could create risks in the workplace. When working with steel, he doesn’t want to rely on co-workers who are high.

He does believe the risks may outweigh the medical benefits of cannabis.

“You can benefit from THC without the high,” Shaffer said.

 At age 16, Dave Fitzgerald would take the short jaunt from his home in New Bedford to the Ohio line to buy beer.  Read More