The Buckeye state is not messing around when it comes to its disdain for minor pot-related offenses getting otherwise law-abiding people jammed up in the criminal justice system. While several other states were focused on the legalization of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes in the midterm election, voters in six Ohio cities were left to determine whether marijuana possession should still be considered a criminal offense. The consensus of the ballots is that police should no longer have the right to drag marijuana offenders to jail. Five cities, Dayton, Fremont, Norwood, Oregon and Windham, now have decriminalization laws on the books. Only voters in one municipality, Garrettsville, rejected this common-sense concept.
Ohio does not exactly have the most liberal pot laws in the country. Small time possession (less than 200 grams) is a misdemeanor that comes with a punishment of up to 30 days in jail and fines reaching $250. It is important to point out that the result of the decimalization ordinances does not change the way the state deals with marijuana crimes. However, in the jurisdictions where the voters have decided that pot offenses should be handled without handcuffs, local police will have the option of merely issuing the offender a ticket and letting them move on down the road. Several other cities, including Toledo, have approved similar decriminalization measures over the past few years.
In Dayton, which is one of the state’s largest cities, voters came out in favor of marijuana decriminalization by a margin of nearly 74 percent to 26 percent. This was one of the most substantial showings of support across the state. Although Mayor Nan Whaley is uncertain about how petty pot offenses will be dealt with in the future, he told ABC News that the city would begin sorting out the details now the voters have answered the question “Shall the Dayton Revised Code of General Ordinances be amended to decriminalize specific misdemeanor marijuana and hashish offenses?”
Voters in four other Ohio cities agreed to similar language – pushing local governments to back off pot busts. But in Garrettsville, which has a population of around 2,300, the people were not so keen on allowing pot offenders to get off with a slap on the wrist. Interestingly, Garrettsville is one of the towns where local officials did everything in their power to prevent the decriminalization initiatives from appearing on the ballot. However, this small town mentality was shut down in September when a federal judge ordered the petitions by included on the ballot for the voters’ consideration.
“Ohio’s regulatory scheme unreasonably infringes on (the plaintiff’s) First Amendment rights by allowing an executive board to determine disputed legal and even constitutional issues, thereby potentially blocking initiatives from the ballot, and then denying rejected petitioners a right to review,” Chief U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus wrote in his decision, according to the Record-Courier.
But it remains to be seen whether law enforcement agencies responsible for the state’s latest decimalization jurisdictions will adhere to the will of the people. In some areas where local decriminalization ordinances have been pushed through, police have continued to arrest small-time pot offenders by leaning on state law. It is only after the prosecutors get sick of dealing with these cases that the circumstances begin to improve. So, there could be a learning curve for these towns.
There is hope that five marijuana decriminalization ordinances passing through the ballot system will inspire lawmakers to rethink the state’s prohibition standard in the 2019 legislative session. But the outcome of the state’s gubernatorial race, which puts Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine in the governor’s seat, could prevent the state from making any significant changes to its pot laws in the immediate future. DeWine is opposed to legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
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