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No jail, no fine for marijuana possession under proposed city ordinance

Being considered: Less than 200 or 100 grams
Posted at 3:12 PM, May 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-13 15:12:55-04

CINCINNATI — Two council members are leading the effort to decriminalize the possession of marijuana, up to 200 grams, in the city of Cincinnati.

Under a proposed ordinance sponsored by Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman and Councilman Jeff Pastor, no one in possession of 200 grams of marijuana or less would be fined or jailed.

“We see young people, old people, middle age people, poor people walking around with joints and they’re getting hit with $250 fines,” Smitherman said. “Most of the time they’re not doing 30 days in jail, we don’t have the jail space for that — but they certainly could do 30 days in jail.”

Two versions of the ordinance, one decriminalizing 100 grams and the other 200 grams, passed the three-member Law and Public Safety Committee Monday. Both versions will go before the full council on Wednesday, according to Smitherman who’s also chair of the committee.

Smitherman said he began looking into this issue starting in 2003. Since then, marijuana laws have been in a transformative state across the country.

“Marijuana is being legalized all across the United States of America,” he said. “And since that time there are a variety of companies that are traded publicly every day on the market.”

Under Ohio law, anyone in possession of 100 to 200 grams of marijuana (recreational) is subject to a $250 fine and up to 30 days in jail. No jail time is required for less than 100 grams, but someone found to be in possession could be cited.

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Smitherman and Pastor said the amount of marijuana is not the issue at hand – during the committee meeting they opted to add the secondary motion calling for the decriminalization of 100 grams instead of 200 grams.

Instead, the council members said, the ordinance is intended to keep up with changing marijuana laws and help people keep or find jobs.

“My concern is as the society has been changing we constantly have so many people that are getting caught up, and they can’t even get a job at a Subway,” Smitherman said.

Can the ordinance be enforced?

Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said he’ll be taking the advice from the city’s law department. Isaac, speaking to committee members, said the city’s police department will enforce the ordinance “as long as we are legally capable.”

“It is our responsibility as police officers that any city ordinance that is legally passed we will enforce,” Isaac said.

Vice-chair Amy Murray, the only committee member to vote against the proposed ordinance, said she wants clarity from the law department about the role of outside agencies, like the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, and whether they’ll enforce the city ordinance or state law.

RELATED: Norwood police decide state, federal law trumps city ordinance on marijuana

Also of concern – will marijuana be used in public?

“If we’re saying to everyone, ‘No one is going to stop you, no one is going to question you,’ then how does that stop people from smoking marijuana on Fountain Square, at Piatt Park, on the streets of Cincinnati?” Murray said. “Are we saying that that’s OK to do?”

Of chief concern throughout Monday’s committee meeting was the amount of marijuana that would be decriminalized. Chief Isaac said 200 grams is roughly half a pound of marijuana.

“A half a pound is something we need to consider very hard. You talk about what’s personal use and what’s used for distribution,” Isaac said.

Murray said she voted ‘no’ Monday in part because of the number of unanswered questions that remain before council’s next regular meeting: Is there a legal age for possessing marijuana? Where are people buying the drug? Can the city legally enforce an ordinance of this nature?

Murray requested reports from both the Cincinnati Police Department and City Solicitor with more information.

Smitherman said he’s unsure whether council has the votes for the ordinance to pass. He said if it does not pass, he’s prepared to start a petition – going door to door to get the issue on the ballot.

“We want to make sure that someone who has possession of a joint in their car, or a blunt, or a roach -- that they’re not subject to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine,” Smitherman said.

City Council is scheduled to meet Wednesday at 2 p.m.