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Vice mayor, councilman call special council session to vote on decriminalizing marijuana

Posted at 4:13 PM, May 22, 2019

CINCINNATI — Lacking the votes to pass an ordinance decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana as an emergency vote, the Cincinnati City Council held a second reading of the proposal Wednesday with hopes of moving it to a vote at a special session. The special session was initially scheduled for Friday but was canceled Thursday afternoon.

The proposal, brought by Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman and Councilman Jeff Pastor, would eliminate jail and fines for anyone found possessing 100 grams or less of marijuana in Cincinnati.

Passing the proposal as an "emergency" and skipping the normal additional reading would have required seven "yes" votes. However, there was not enough support for that between the council members present at Wednesday's meeting.

There has been some pushback on the 100-gram number. Councilman David Mann has introduced another ordinance which would lower the amount to 28.3 grams — about an ounce — set an age limit of 18 and prevent possession in public places. That proposal is due to go to the Law & Public Safety Committee next week.

"The legislation that we did not act on would permit a 12-year-old to have 100 grams of pot — that's 300 joints — and go to Fountain Square and partake," Mann said. "Somehow, that doesn't make sense to me."

Still, Smitherman is standing by 100 grams. City officials announced a special session called by Smitherman and Pastor to discuss and take action on an ordinance proposing decriminalization of marijuana at 1 p.m. Friday.

"I am ready for an up or down vote to move forward on what I think is a rational step for Cincinnati," he said.

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On Sunday's episode of "This Week in Cincinnati," Smitherman said his proposal was the result of conversations he's had in the past few years about how minor marijuana possession arrests had created an "under class" of people who can't get jobs due to their criminal record.

"What I'm trying to do here is give people a shot at life and say, 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," he said. "And the last thing is, I don't agree that marijuana is the gateway drug to anything else. I think alcohol is more of a gateway drug, so I reject that argument."