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Marijuana Arrests to Continue in Ohio, But How Bad?

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As the the defeat of the cartel-style legalization in Ohio continues to be analyzed, many commentators have noted that the biggest cost of ResponsibleOhio’s failed campaign is the continuation of marijuana arrests in the state. Indeed, many argued prior to the election that this flawed initiative should be supported because it was important to end marijuana arrests, no matter what.

And what follows below will mean nothing to individuals who end up with criminal charges for marijuana possession or related crimes in Ohio in the aftermath of this failed legalization effort. Nonetheless, the truth of the matter is that compared to most states, not many people actually face criminal charges for marijuana possession in Ohio.

One person faced with criminal charges for marijuana possession is one too many. But marijuana users in Ohio face a much better situation in terms of penalties and arrest trends than most people in the United States.

Here are the facts.

In Ohio, the penalty for possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana is a maximum fine of $150. Possession of 100 to 200 grams of marijuana is subject to a 30-day jail sentence and a maximum fine of $250. Cultivation of marijuana for personal use is an affirmative defense, meaning personal use has to be established by the defendant, and is a misdemeanor offense.

According to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, in 2012, there were 18,403 arrests in Ohio for marijuana offenses. Most of these (93 percent) were for possession. These include decriminalized offenses involving possession of 100 grams or less.

The UCR program provides data on marijuana arrests in 2012 for most of the states in the country, with the exception of Florida, Illinois and Washington, D.C.

Ohio has one of the lowest arrest rates for marijuana offenses in the U.S. at 159 per 100,000. The only states with lower arrests rates include California and Massachusetts (which changed marijuana possession to a civil offense not reported to the UCR program), Washington and Alaska (which recently legalized marijuana), and the states of Montana, Vermont, Hawaii, Connecticut and Alabama.

By comparison, the national arrest rate was 220 per 100,000. The arrest rate for marijuana in nearby Pennsylvania was 206 and the arrest rate in Indiana was 202.

In 2012, the year Colorado enacted legalization, the arrest rate for marijuana offenses was 201 per 100,000 residents. In Oregon, which had decriminalized possession of small amounts prior to legalization of marijuana in 2014, the arrest rate in 2012 was 270 per 100,000.

The arrest rate for blacks in Ohio, in 2013, was significantly greater than the marijuana possession arrest rate for whites. The arrest rate for blacks was 487; this was 3.7 times higher than the arrest rate for whites, which was 132 per 100,000.

Interestingly, the NAACP opposed ResponsibleOhio’s legalization proposal because it would represent “tacit approval” of a drug that the organization believes has negative effects on families and children. Other state chapters of the civil rights groups have supported marijuana law reform because of the racial disparity in marijuana possession arrest rates. An offer by this author during the campaign to provide ResponsibleOhio with updated data on racial disparities in Ohio marijuana possession arrests received no response.

The analysis of the defeat of Issue 3 continues, with most observers calling attention to the same points raised here.

ResponsibleOhio took the support of marijuana users for granted; they were ignorant of the costs of deploying a Joe Camel-like mascot, Buddie; and it was a mistake to put the initiative on the ballot during an election cycle with low voter turnout. Noting that the organization “begrudgingly endorsed the initiative,” NORML founder and chief counsel Keith Stroup joined High Times in labeling the defeat a debacle, concluding that “the arrogance of this group was amazing, and their failure to understand the caution that is required when dealing with the marijuana issue, as contrasted to many other issues of public policy, was astounding.”

It is true that the marijuana consumers in Ohio are the real losers here. Fortunately, though, most of them remain protected from criminal sanctions by the state’s decriminalization policies.

Jon Gettman is the Cannabis Policy Director for High Times. Jon has a Ph.D. in public policy, teaching undergraduate criminal justice and graduate level management courses. A long-time contributor to High Times, his research and analytical work has been used by NORML, Marijuana Policy Project, American’s for Safe Access, the Drug Policy Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations. Jon’s research contributions to the topic of marijuana law reform have included findings on the economic value of domestic marijuana cultivation, attempts to have marijuana rescheduled under federal law and racial disparities in marijuana possession arrest rates. Serving as NORML’s National Director in the late 1980s, he was instrumental in creating NORML’s activist program.

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