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Cincinnati's pot expungement ordinance will give many a second chance at life, officials say

Posted at 6:08 PM, Sep 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-19 18:17:52-04

CINCINNATI — Three ounces of marijuana can carry a big weight. Just ask Christine Jones of the Hamilton County Public Defender Office.

“There are so many collateral consequences it would take me all day to name all of them,” said Jones, director of the Appellate Division.

Jones leads the Fresh Start Clinic, which helps people with expungements. She says even a low-level marijuana possession charge can sentence people to a hopeless existence.

“So many times they either can’t get a job or they’re stuck in a dead-end job. So it’s almost hopeless. They’re just really hopeless,” Jones said.

That’s why Jones supports the city’s new ordinance that will seal the records of low-level marijuana offenders.

“I think that it’ll be a big deal,” Jones said. “I don’t think most people think a marijuana ticket is a big deal on your criminal conviction, but it is.”

To qualify for expungement, the possession charge must be 100 grams or less. That’s about three ounces of marijuana. And the offense must be non-violent.

“This is a real silver bullet that allows somebody who had a small amount of marijuana be brought right back into society,” says Vice Mayor and City Councilmember Chris Smitherman.

Smitherman is a leading force behind the ordinance.

“This is one of the most effective ways that we’re going to be able to impact citizens so that they can get a job by the expungement, they can apply for student loans by way of getting the expungement,” Smitherman said.

When a record is sealed, it is off limit to nearly all employers. However, it would still show for those applying for jobs like nursing and childcare.

Smitherman says the city will now take a proactive approach to helping those who are eligible.

“We’re asking the city solicitor to go throughout dockets and be proactive about looking at cases and then proactively making phone calls. And at the same time we’re going to have to solicit help from our partners,” Smitherman said.

Jones hopes the clinic can help.

“I’d love to send these people to us,” she said.