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Push to decriminalize marijuana possession expected to move through Cleveland City Council

Posted at 3:59 PM, Dec 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-31 18:35:44-05

CLEVELAND — Cleveland City Council members are expecting to move ahead with an ordinance that would remove any jail time or fines for possessing less than 200 grams of marijuana, while also ensuring that those cases are not referred to other agency for prosecution.

Of the roughly 55 million American adults who say they've used marijuana recreationally, the ACLU claims white and black Americans use it at the same rate, but black Americans are about four times more likely to be arrested for it.

The City of Cleveland skyline.

"I talk to many professionals, people are using it right now," said State Representative Stephanie Howse, referring to recreational marijuana. "But the difference is: who is getting caught."

That's why the ordinance that Cleveland City Councilmember Blaine Griffin introduced over the summer would remove all penalties.

"What we think is that people who have small amounts [of marijuana] should not receive penalties," said Griffin.


No jail time and no fines because Councilman Griffin says even small penalties are too steep for some people and can lead to larger punishments.

"There's bias whenever you have these kind of penalties," said Griffin.

Griffin tells News 5 he expects a City Council Committee to take up the ordinance in January. Councilman Matt Zone tells News 5 the legislation is still being reviewed by Mayor Jackson's administration and has yet to come back to the City Council.

The effort in Cleveland is following the lead of Ohio cities like Cincinnati and Columbus, where city councils have already decreased penalties for marijuana possession.

In Cincinnati, there is no punishment for having less than 100 grams. Columbus has a $10 fine for less than 100 grams and a $25 fine for between 100 and 200 grams.

Councilman Griffin says many prosecutors have already been more lenient with smaller marijuana charges.

"They've already started to lessen the heavy-handed tactics around it," said Griffin. "We just want to codify it."

In many more communities, voters have taken the lead.

In 2019, Bremen, Nelsonville, and Northwood all voted to have no punishment for people carrying certain amounts of marijuana. Before them, voters in roughly 10 other cities backed the same move.

Ohio organizers tell News 5 they are not aware of any cities putting marijuana on the ballot for the primary election in March. There is one group trying to gather signatures to get legalization across Ohio back on the ballot in November of 2020.

At the end of 2019, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would legalize marijuana on the federal level. That bill still needs to be voted on in the House and Senate before potentially becoming law.