The city council in Cleveland voted on Monday to end all penalties for possession of up to 200 grams, or just over 7 ounces, of cannabis, effectively decriminalizing marijuana in Ohio’s second-largest city.
“What we’re proposing is zero fines, zero jail time for anyone who has up to 200 grams of marijuana,” said Councilman Blaine A. Griffin, the sponsor of the ordinance, before the vote was taken.
“Let this be a bold first step in how we look at 21st Century policing,” he added at Monday’s meeting.
Cleveland joins several other Ohio cities, including Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo, that have recently decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under state law, possession of up to 100 grams of cannabis except by registered medical marijuana patients is subject to a fine of up to $150. Being caught with 100 to 200 grams of pot is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $250.
Let’s Hear It for Hemp!
Because of the legalization of hemp under federal law, prosecuting cannabis offenses now requires expensive lab testing to determine the concentration of THC in suspected marijuana. Samples that contain 0.3% or less THC are hemp and legal to possess.
Chris Hartung, the chief of police in Vermillion, Ohio, announced last summer that his department would no longer enforce low-level marijuana violations, saying the city could not afford the required testing. Without lab results, “we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect was in possession of marijuana as opposed to hemp,” he wrote in an email to local media.
Cleveland’s ordinance was first passed with a unanimous vote by the city council’s safety committee two weeks ago. At the time, Griffin, who represents the city’s Ward 6, said that the measure would help end the racial disparity common in the enforcement of marijuana laws.
“We have always known that African-Americans are sometimes seven times more likely to be charged with marijuana possession,” he said.
“In addition to good government, this is really trying to create an equitable policy, as well as moving to the 21st century and away from the ’70s, when it comes to marijuana and cannabis use,” he said.
Last week, the city council in Austin, Texas passed similar legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. However, only one day later the city’s police chief announced that despite the council’s action, his department would continue to make arrests and write tickets for possession of small amounts of cannabis.