Voters in at least six municipalities across Ohio will have an opportunity to vote on local initiatives to decriminalize marijuana in November.
The decriminalization of misdemeanor cannabis offenses will appear on the ballot in Dayton, Fremont, Garrettsville, Norwood, Oregon and Windham.
Possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana is currently a misdemeanor in Ohio, punishable by a $150 to $250 fine and up to 30 days in jail, depending on the exact amount.
The proposed ballot measures won’t change state law, but if approved they will alter local policies and likely protect at least some cannabis consumers from criminal sanctions. The ultimate impact will depend on whether municipal police choose to abide by the will of local voters or instead use their authority to continue enforcing state policy.
Here’s the text of each local measure:
Dayton: “Shall the Dayton Revised Code of General Ordinances be amended to decriminalize specific misdemeanor marijuana and hashish offenses?”
Fremont: “Shall the proposed Sensible Marihuana Ordinance which lowers the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by state law be adopted?”
Garrettsville: “Shall the proposed ordinance to lower the penalties for misdemeanor marihuana offenses to the lowest penalties allowed by state law be adopted?”
Norwood: “Shall the proposed ordinance adding Section 513.15 Marijuana Laws and Penalties to the City of Norwood Municipal Code, which would lower the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by state law, be adopted?”
Oregon: “Shall the proposed Sensible Marihuana Ordinance which lowers the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by state law be adopted?”
Windham: “Shall the proposed ordinance to lower the penalties for misdemeanor marihuana offenses to the lowest penalties allowed by state law be adopted?”
“Voters in these six municipalities have the ability to send a resounding message to the state legislature of Ohio in advance of their next legislative session,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in an interview. “That message would simply be, ‘stop arresting our friends and loved ones.'”
An attempt to get decriminalization on the ballot in Nelsonville was derailed earlier this year after a city attorney found “fatal flaws” with petitions that were initially submitted, The Athens News reported. The group behind the proposed ordinance, Grassroots Ohioans, resubmitted amended petitions, but the deadline for inclusion on the 2018 ballot had passed.
Last month, a federal judge ordered the Garrettsville and Windham measures onto their respective ballots after local officials initially tried to keep them off.
Norwood Police Chief William Kramer has already said that his department would continue to prosecute people for misdemeanor marijuana offenses according to state law, regardless of the election outcome.
In 2015, Ohio voters resoundingly defeated a statewide marijuana legalization measure that was opposed even by many longtime cannabis policy reformers who were concerned about the manner in which it proposed a lock on cultivation licenses by the people who paid for the effort to put it on the ballot.
While much of the country’s attention has focused on cannabis reform developments at the state level, a growing number of cities and counties throughout the U.S. are also participating in the movement.
“These ballots initiatives did not magically appear, but rather were earned by the commitment and dedication of citizens from around Ohio,” Strekal, of NORML, said of the local measures in the Buckeye State. “In recent years, the tireless work of individuals around the country have resulted in over 50 cities and localities reducing fines and penalties for simple possession.”
In Wisconsin, advisory referendums in 16 counties will ask voters to weigh in on cannabis legalization for either medical or recreational use this November. Nearly half of the state’s population lives in those counties. Advisory questions cropped up throughout Massachusetts in election cycles preceding the state’s 2016 vote to legalize marijuana for adult use.
Unlike advisory questions, the local ordinances in Ohio aren’t just designed to gauge public sentiment toward cannabis reform; they’re binding policies that will take effect immediately if a majority of voters approve them.
It’s difficult to say on a city-by-city level how voters will react to the decriminalization ordinances, but in general, Ohioans seem increasingly supportive of marijuana reform. A June poll of 500 likely midterm election voters in the state found that 55 percent are OK with medical cannabis dispensaries in their neighborhoods, for example.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.