Newark – Despite the cold and rain Tuesday morning, about a dozen protesters chanted outside the Newark Municipal Building to voice their frustration that the city will ignore the newly passed marijuana decriminalization law.
Shawn Aber, a Newark resident, organized the People Have Spoken rally after learning the city will charge people under the state laws for marijuana.
Aber, who was not part of the Sensible Newark group that got the measure on the ballot, said it’s not right that Newark Law Director Doug Sassen can override what the residents of Newark have decided.
"If the people voted it in, one man should not be able to change it," Aber said.
The voter-driven initiative, which received 53 percent of the vote, decriminalized possession of 200 grams or less of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia. A person will not face any jail time or fines for possessing either, if they are charged under the new city law. The decriminalization is in effect only in the city of Newark; it does not apply anywhere else in the county.
Ohio’s law carries a fine of $150 and no jail time for possession of less than 100 grams or paraphernalia. For possession of 100 grams to 200 grams, a person could get up to 30 days in jail and a maximum fine of $250.
Sassen said previously there is nothing that requires the city to charge offenses under city law.
"Its just an option thats available if we chose to pursue it and were going to choose not to pursue it," Sassen said to The Advocate in November.
During the rally, people chanted "Out with Doug Sassen" and "The people have spoken."
Aber, who said he planned on getting arrested, tried to test the law at one point in the rally. He went up to a parked police vehicle and showed the officer a bag of what he said was marijuana. The officer did not get out of the vehicle and Aber was not arrested. He did open the bag and spread the contents on the sidewalks of West Main and Fourth streets.
Leanne Barbee, co-founder Sensible Newark, said she was worried when she heard about the protest.
"A protest is fine if you want to show city council the feelings of public and the citizens of Newark, but we were told that he was planning on getting arrested for marijuana possession and that’s where we had the problem," she said. "If the first person who gets arrested takes it all the way to the Supreme Court and they don’t have good legal representation and it fails and the judge says ‘OK we’re going to charge you under state law’ and actually go through with those charges, that’ll set precedent and if the precedent is not good, the rest of Newark citizens are going to feel what happened as a result of this."
Barbee said it’s frustrating because she, along with the Sensible Newark’s other co-founder Alissa Baker, spent a year of their lives working on the measure.
"We understand they want to do something, but there’s a right way and there’s a wrong way to do this," Barbee said. "Going and screaming in front of the city council building is not the right way to handle this."
Baker said they’ve been taking a wait and see approach.
"The law was just implemented. There was really nothing we could do, there’s nothing we can do until something happens," she said. "I understand that they’re upset. We’re upset too."