Cleveland considering no punishment for small amounts of marijuana to balance scales of justice

Posted at 6:34 AM, Jul 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-29 18:36:42-04

CLEVELAND — From some medical doctors to marijuana advocates and even some elected officials, the thought is the same: "Marijuana has no business being a Schedule I drug right now," said Cleveland City Council member Blaine Griffin.

Years of the War on Drugs means harsh penalties are still on the books, which is why Griffin's newly-introduced ordinance would be a big change.

"We want no jail time and no penalties for individuals that have small amounts of marijuana," said Griffin.

Griffin says 200 grams of marijuana seems to be where other cities have created the line that marks the difference between personal use and trafficking.

Right now, Griffin says most marijuana offenses in Cleveland are punished under state law, where someone can be fined $150 for having less than 100 grams of marijuana, and $250 with 30 days in jail for having between 100 and 200 grams.

But American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) data shows white and black Americans use marijuana at the same rate but black people are about four times as likely to get arrested for it.

"I talk to many professionals," said Ohio State Representative Stephanie Howse. "People are using [marijuana] right now but the difference is who is getting caught."

So Griffin says his ordinance is a good starting point, putting into city code the leniency some prosecutors and judges have already started to show.

Cleveland police car
If the ordinance passes, driving under the influence would still get drivers in trouble, but City Council still needs to determine what would happen to someone who would otherwise only be charged with possession.

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

The Columbus City Council just passed a similar ordinance that drops the fines down to $10 for less than 100 grams of marijuana and $25 for between 100 and 200 grams.

"This is still illegal," said Columbus City Council President Shannon G. Hardin. "Us reducing the fine does not take the involvement of the criminal justice system away. The police can still be able to stop and cite you for use."

How Cleveland's ordinance affects people found with marijuana in Cleveland is part of what Griffin says will be worked out while the ordinance works through city council's legislative process.

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Cleveland's proposed ordinance has no impact on Ohio's Medical Marijuana Control Program, which requires patients to have medical cards giving them permission to buy and possess only marijuana grown and processed through the state program. At cultivation facilities, yellow tags allow state regulators to track all product created in the state under strict penalties for companies found to have untagged plants.

The ACLU says even small fines can be hard to pay for some people and when the fines go unpaid, they can turn into warrants, creating many more legal problems.

No penalties means never getting into the legal system just for marijuana possession in the first place, which can have negative impacts for the rest of their lives.

"I know people that have convictions from 20 years ago," said Griffin. "They shouldn't be saddled with that right now."

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