Columbus, Ohio May Significantly Reduce Penalties for Marijuana Possession

The city council in Columbus, Ohio is considering cannabis policy reforms that would significantly reduce the penalties imposed for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The council has scheduled a public hearing on a proposed city ordinance to enact the reforms for Thursday evening.

Under the proposed ordinance, possession of up to 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of marijuana would be subject to a fine of up to $10. Those caught possessing between 100 and 200 grams (approximately seven ounces) of cannabis could be fined up to $25. Possession of more than 200 grams would still be a felony.

The fine for possession of marijuana paraphernalia would be reduced to $10. The ordinance would also increase funding to help those with previous convictions for marijuana possession offenses have their criminal records sealed.

The fines for cannabis possession would not apply to “any person who obtained the marihuana pursuant to a lawful prescription issued by a licensed health professional authorized to prescribe drugs,” according to the ordinance.

Punishments More Severe Under State Law

Under Ohio state law, possession of up to 100 grams of cannabis can be punished with a fine of up to $150 while possessing 100 to 200 grams of pot could set you back $250 and land you in jail for up to 30 days.

Council President Shannon G. Hardin said in a written statement that the council has scheduled Thursday’s public hearing in an effort to receive feedback on the proposal from the community.

“We want to know what residents think about on proposed reforms,” said Hardin. “We are having serious conversations about inequalities in the criminal justice system.

“There are two key elements to the proposal: lowering fines for small amounts of marijuana possession and increasing funds for Legal Aid attorneys to help seal records for minor convictions so Columbus residents can get good-paying jobs.”

Racial Inequality of Cannabis Enforcement Cited

In a background paper attached to the proposed ordinance, it is noted that the racial inequality prevalent in the enforcement of marijuana laws has already led other Ohio cities to enact their own ordinances with more lenient penalties for possessing cannabis. The Columbus ordinance
“will further the city’s efforts to address criminal penalties that have disproportionate effects on communities of color,” reads the background paper.

“Given the racial inequities that exist with enforcement of marihuana laws locally and nationwide, the recent legalization of medical marihuana in the state of Ohio, and the number of recent ballot initiatives and ordinances liberalizing marihuana laws in municipalities such as Toledo, Dayton, and Cincinnati, (Columbus) Council has determined that the potential penalties for misdemeanor marihuana possession should be lowered from the standard set” by the state of Ohio, the background paper adds.

Last month, the Cincinnati City Council voted to eliminate all fines for possession of up to 100 grams of cannabis.

The public hearing on the ordinance will be held on Thursday, July 18 at 5:30 p.m. in council chambers at city hall. Residents of the city who cannot attend but would like to send feedback to the city council on the issue can take an online survey at www.columbus.gov/council/marijuanareform or send email messages to marijuanareform@columbus.gov.

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