While voters in four states were busy Tuesday legalizing the leaf for recreational purposes, several communities throughout the state of Ohio quietly passed initiatives that will eliminate all of the penalties associated with the possession of marijuana.
It is officially no longer a crime—not even a civil infraction—to be caught holding weed in the cities of Newark, Bellaire, Logan and Roseville. An identical measure in Byesville was rejected.
The new ordinances have decriminalized the possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana in a manner that dictates no jail time and no fines. This is good new for the more than 60,000 people living in those areas, especially since state law still considers the offense a minor misdemeanor with a punishment of up to 30 days in jail and fines reaching $250.
The possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana was reduced to a minor misdemeanor statewide several decades ago. But for those people caught up in this racket, they have still had to face paying a $150 fine and, up until earlier this year, living without a driver’s license.
Fortunately, local governments have been given the freedom to pass separate ordinances that prescribe more relaxed penalties for misdemeanors of this kind.
Sensible Bellaire, the organization responsible for pushing the ballot measures in the five Ohio towns, believe the new ordinances will greatly benefit those members of the medical marijuana community who are not yet allowed to purchase medicine through legal means.
“I am proud of Ohioans for standing up and voting for these citizen lead initiatives to fully decriminalize marijuana up to 200 grams, and standing up for the patients in each of the municipalities,” Bill Schmitt Jr, founder of Sensible Belliare, told HIGH TIMES. “With HB523 taking too long to go in effect, patients in these areas will have protection from the law within five days.”
If the in-and-out’s of these new decriminalization ordinances sound familiar, it’s because they were designed in the image of a measure passed last year in Toledo. The ordinance originally considered marijuana possession in any amount to be a minor misdemeanor, whereby anyone busted with weed “shall not be fined and no incarceration, probation, not any other punitive or rehabilitative measure shall be imposed.”
But the language of Toledo’s decriminalization plan, which made felony pot possession an offense without a penalty, was challenged in a lawsuit filed by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. The courts eventually ruled that the felony provision be stricken from the language of the ordinance.
Several more Ohio communities, including Cleveland, are expected to begin discussing decriminalization ordinances in the near future.
For now, it seems these types of local reforms are the only feasible approach for challenging the opinion of a state legislature that has shown no interest in ending prohibition.
“If they won’t change the laws, we will—city-by-city, village-by-village—until we take our human rights back to this amazing medicinal plant,” Schmitt said.
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