OH: Backers Of Marijuana Decriminalization Efforts Say Voters Being Ignored


Newark – Four Ohio communities passed measures on Election Day to eliminate fines and jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana, but some local officials warn that little will change.

A decriminalization initiative in Newark, which passed with 53 percent of the vote, removes penalties for possessing less than 200 grams of marijuana in the city. Under the measure, possessing less than that much would constitute a minor misdemeanor, and no fines, incarceration, probation or any other punitive or rehabilitative measure would be imposed.

But Newark Law Director Doug Sassen said charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession will be filed under state code, not the newly passed city law. Under state law, those caught with less than 100 grams of marijuana or paraphernalia face a maximum fine of $150 and loss of driving privileges.

Theres historical context for sticking with the state code, Sassen said. Most violations had previously been filed under state code in Newark, rather than the city code, which used to carry harsher penalties.

This helps to ensure consistency for marijuana possession offenses, Sassen said, especially since Newark Municipal Court has countywide jurisdiction in Licking County.

Its important to have that measure of consistency countywide, whenever possible, he said. Its not a matter of ignoring the local ordinance, its a matter of developing practices that we have over the years of applying state law, because it has a consistent application countywide.

In 2015, Newark had 170 cases of marijuana possession violations, according to municipal court data. Of those, only 15 were filed under Newarks city code.

Still, organizers of the decriminalization initiative said this move by the city stifles the voice of citizens.

If this is allowed to go ignored, then that sets a very, very dangerous precedent for any initiative, any ordinance changes in the future, said Alissa Baker, co-founder of the Newark group behind the new law.

The law helps to protect patients who use marijuana for medical purposes, organizers said, especially while people wait for medical marijuana to become available under a new state law, which might not be until 2018. Organizers also have argued that the measure helps local law enforcement focus their efforts on more serious problems in the community.

Were just trying to make Newark safer. Were not advocating crazy drug use, Baker said. (This is) another blow to patients in the state of Ohio. Our officials dont care.

But the new Newark law, Sassen said, repealed additional parts of the citys code relating to drugs – not just marijuana – without replacing them, a notion organizers reject. The measure repealed the prohibition of transferring prescription drugs, possessing drug abuse instruments such as syringes and other provisions, Sassen said.

I personally find it very hard to believe that 53 percent of the city of Newark, Ohio, think it should be legal to sniff glue in Newark, Ohio, he said.

Similar marijuana decriminalization issues – all of which were based on a successful 2015 initiative in Toledo – passed in Logan in Hocking County, Bellaire in Belmont County, and Roseville, on the border of Muskingum and Perry counties.

Logan is still determining its next steps, said Police Chief Jerry Mellinger. He expects to meet with city officials soon to discuss the new legislation and said police will take our enforcement actions from those decisions.

Bellaire law enforcement officials did not return calls for comment, but Bellaire Police Chief Michael Kovalyk told The Intelligencer newspaper in Wheeling that the village will continue to cite marijuana misdemeanor offenses under state code, and violators will go through county court.

Roseville Mayor Dave Carroll said village law enforcement also plans to cite violations under the state code. Violators will then answer to charges in the county in which theyre cited, he said.

Is it going to upset a few people? Im sure it is, Carroll said. Basically they passed something that is not going to work for them.

Little has changed in Toledo since voters passed decriminalization in 2015, said Toledo Law Director Adam Loukx. A judge ruled that parts of the law relating to felonies were unconstitutional and unenforceable in court, but the parts eliminating penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana remained.

Toledo officers have discretion to cite under either city or state code, Loukx said, but minor possession violations were and continue to be fairly rare.

The difference between before and after our voters passed it is hardly discernable, Loukx said. As a standalone issue, minor possession is not something that were wasting a lot of law enforcement resources on.

Both Newark officials and organizers of the decriminalization initiative there said theyre open to sitting down to discuss the matter, but no meetings have occurred. The decriminalization group is also contacting constitutional lawyers and the ACLU for guidance.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Backers Of Marijuana Decriminalization Efforts Say Voters Being Ignored
Author: Jennifer Smola
Contact: 614-461-5200
Photo Credit: AP
Website: The Columbus Dispatch