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Cleveland Safety Committee votes to remove penalties for 200 grams or less of marijuana

Council members discuss amended marijuana ordinance.
Posted at 3:08 PM, Jan 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-15 18:02:53-05

CLEVELAND — On Wednesday, The Cleveland City Council Safety Committee approved amendments that would remove all penalties for possessing less than 200 grams of marijuana. The approved amendment will go to the finance committee, which could be heard as early as Jan. 27.

Council members made their cases as to why the current ordinance should be amended.

In an exchange between city council and the prosecutors, Councilman Brian Kazy, of Ward 16, posed the question, "Why stop at this? Why not decriminalize all 4th-degree misdemeanors?

Councilman Matt Zone responded, "This is what Councilman Ward is bringing forward."

City of Cleveland prosecutor then replied, "What someone has in their pockets is not necessarily as disruptive as someone starting a fight or being disruptive."

Financial case for amending the ordinance

Several council members addressed the committee with their reasoning on why penalties should be removed from marijuana possession.

Blaine Griffin, Ward 6 Cleveland Councilman, said Cleveland should follow other states which have already legalized marijuana, and other cities which have already changed policies to allow possession of up to 200 grams.

Echoing how other states have already took off marijuana from the Schedule 1 tier, Griffin noted that Ohio has made hemp legal, which has led to issues with identification and telling the difference between marijuana and hemp.

From a financial standpoint, Griffin made the case that removing the ordinance would save the city money, because as of right now, it costs $60 per package to test marijuana at an out-of-state facility. Without such an ordinance on marijuana possession, the Cleveland Police Department can put the money towards other uses.

Racial Equity

For Councilman Griffin, the amended ordinance goes beyond financial reasons by taking out the racial bias, creating more racial equity.

The ACLU says black Americans use marijuana at roughly the same rate, but black people are about four times more likely to get arrested for it.

An attorney for the City of Cleveland said by lowering the fine and ending prison time for possession of marijuana, it avoids unnecessary incarceration.

Basheer Jones, councilman of Ward 7, said for some people, interacting with police because of a marijuana charge is a minor inconvenience. While other communities are concerned about their interactions with police because it could result in a more serious injury.

How it impacts Cleveland police

Speaking to the committee, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said the only issue with the amended marijuana ordinance is making sure it aligns with the law and officers understanding the changes that could affect traffic stops.

To allow for understanding across the Division of Police, Chief Williams asked for a week or two to revisit and revise policies around marijuana search and seizure.

Councilman Zone said there’s a strong desire to get marijuana legislation through in the first quarter of 2020, giving enough time for Cleveland police to adjust its policies.

As for right now, Chief Williams said it will follow procedures already in place to determine the weight of marijuana and how to handle interaction with people who have have around 200 grams.

If the amended ordinance passes

A prosecutor for the city said different stakeholders are establishing best practices for how to handle marijuana ordinances.

Councilman Griffin said there is no expungment component to the ordinance changes. He noted that he would like to see those changes included, but said a lot of local convictions are trumped by state laws, complicating the entire process.

A prosecutor for the city said he wasn't aware of anyone who has been incarcerated strictly for marijuana within the past year.

Council members pointed out that marijuana is still illegal at the federal, state and local level. Those who possess less than 200 grams could still be arrested, but won't be prosecuted, according to Brian Kazy, Cleveland City Councilman of Ward 16.

RELATED: Cleveland Safety Committee might remove all fines and jail time for less than 200 grams of marijuana