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Cincinnati City Council cancels Friday's marijuana-focused special session

Posted at 5:14 PM, May 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-23 17:31:33-04

CINCINNATI — A special session of City Council at which Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman and Councilman Jeff Pastor had hoped to push their marijuana legalization ordinance closer to a vote was abruptly canceled Thursday afternoon.

When contacted for comment, Smitherman’s office said four Council Democrats — P.G. Sittenfeld, Tamaya Dennard, Wendell Young and Chris Seelbach — had indicated they would be unable to attend, meaning the council could not convene.

Sittenfeld spokesman Chris Dalton said that was untrue and that Smitherman’s office had never contacted them about attendance.

“I have as much information as you do right now,” he said when asked why the meeting had been canceled.

The offices of the other three Democrats did not immediately return a request for comment.

The ordinance at issue would remove criminal penalties, including fines and jail time, for possession of up to 100 or 200 grams of recreational marijuana within Cincinnati city limits. Co-sponsors Smitherman and Pastor have framed their proposal as a common-sense way to “give people a shot at life,” removing punishments that would disproportionately and continuously affect the poorest and most disenfranchised residents of the city.

“Having small amounts of marijuana in our city no longer will put them in a position where they're facing 30 days in jail or a $250 fine," Smitherman said Sunday on “This Week in Cincinnati.”

However, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters and Councilman David Mann voiced objections to the scale of the bill, arguing even 100 grams was simply too much.

In a May 17 letter to all nine members of Council and Mayor John Cranley, Deters wrote allowing possession of 100 grams could stymie law enforcement efforts to identify drug traffickers.

Mann responded with a proposal of his own: Remove penalties associated with possession of no more than 28.3 grams, set an age limit of 18 and continue to penalize possession in public places.

At the time the now-canceled meeting was scheduled, Smitherman said he was determined to stand by his initial proposal.