CLEVELAND — The Cleveland City Council has removed all penalties for having less than 200 grams of marijuana.
Under state law, that could carry up to $250 in fines and up to 30 days in jail, although many prosecutors have been deciding not to prosecute those offenses to the fullest extent allowed.
The change is the result of work from a group examining Cleveland’s marijuana laws with Councilman Blaine Griffin, getting the city ready as laws around recreational and medical marijuana change across the nation.
It’s a change that Chip Jenkins wishes could have come a few years earlier.
“The one thing that would help him, to make him feel better, was marijuana,” said Jenkins, referring to his son Alex.
Anxiety led Alex Jenkins to buy marijuana off the street, which eventually led him to court.
“He got caught up in the legal system,” said Chip Jenkins.
After Alex Jenkins started getting arrested, his criminal record made it nearly impossible to land a job. Unemployed, Jenkins turned to harder drugs until he eventually overdosed.
“Some speculation here, but had marijuana been legal, [Alex] might be alive,” said Chip Jenkins.
Alex Jenkins' is the kind of downward spiral Councilmember Griffin is trying to avoid.
“Let this be a bold first step in how we look at 21st Century policing,” said Griffin at a Cleveland City Council Finance Committee hearing Monday.
Griffin started working on the city ordinance change to remove any penalty for less than 200 grams of marijuana. It also states that a job applicant doesn’t have to tell a potential employer about any arrest for having less than 200 grams of marijuana.
Other cities like Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo and others have already taken similar steps.
Study’s disagree exactly how many grams of marijuana is in the average joint. The federal government has said that joints usually contain about a half gram of the drug. By that calculation, 200 grams could create about 400 joints.
The full City Council approved the change Monday night, but not before Councilman Brian Kazy said the change could tell young people that doing something illegal is OK. The ordinance change doesn’t make marijuana legal, it just removes penalties for it within the city.
“I have a concern that de-penalizing something that’s illegal, that we could possibly be sending the wrong message,” said Kazy.
Worth repeating: having any amount of #marijuana can still be a reason for police to search someone. Even if they don't face consequences for the marijuana, any other charges that come out of that search could still get someone caught up in the legal system.#WEWS— Kevin Barry (@KevinBarryWEWS) January 27, 2020
Griffin says it’ll help make the justice system more fair because even though black and white Americans use marijuana at about the same rate, the ACLU says black people are about four times more likely to get arrested for it.
“I’ve gotten several calls for just average people who would say that their lives have been ruined by these penalties in the past,” said Griffin.
The changes now go to Mayor Frank Jackson’s desk to be signed. Councilmembers tell News 5 the law could be enacted by the end of the week.
Chip Jenkins doesn’t live in Cleveland, but he says action like Cleveland’s is a start. He says it’ll prevent his son’s tragedy from becoming another family’s reality.
“He was smart,” said Jenkins about his son, Alex. “He knew he had problems and he knew that the system was against him and I didn’t know what to do.”