Four more Ohio cities will be voting on local measures to decriminalize marijuana this November, activists say.
While they faced signature gathering challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic, advocates announced on Wednesday that they successfully collected enough valid signatures and turned them in ahead of the deadline to qualify for municipal ballots.
Voters in Adena, Glouster, Jacksonville, and Trimble will each see the reform measures on their ballots after local boards of elections certified the petitions. If approved, they’ll join 18 other Ohio cities in that have already enacted measures to lower penalties for misdemeanor cannabis possession in recent years.
NORML Appalachia and the Sensible Movement Coalition worked together on this latest round of proposals. Initially, they aimed to add 14 more municipalities to the list of places voting on decriminalization in 2020, but the COVID-19 outbreak derailed that plan.
The group sued the state, asking that they be allowed to gather signatures electronically. But while a federal court sided with them in a May ruling, the decision was overturned by an appeals court the next month.
Don Keeney, executive director of NORML Appalachia, told Marijuana Moment that the activists consolidated their efforts, targeting the four jurisdictions strategically because they’re located near each other, which allowed petitioners to make the most of their time.
“Everywhere we go, the reception has been good,” he said. “We’ve still got a few naysayers, but even they were polite about it.”
While local boards of elections have certified the signatures and approved them for the ballot, the secretary of state’s office must still either approve the specific proposed ballot language or revise it. Officials can’t prevent the measures from appearing on the local ballots, however.
The 18 jurisdictions where the activists have had past successes include major cities like Dayton, Toledo, Athens, Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland—some of which passed voter-approved ballot measures, while others took action via city councils. The most recent passed happened in Plymouth, where the city council voted in favor of decriminalization last month.
The full list of places that were initially being targeted for 2020 was Adena, Akron, Baltimore, Cadiz, Chagrin Falls, Glouster, Jacksonville, Maumee, McArthur, New Lexington, Rutland, Syracuse, Trimble and Zanesville.
Keeney said they did attempt to collect signatures in McArthur, but ran out of time. Activists ultimately did not pursue the other municipalities.
The local reforms are endorsed by the National Organization for Women, ACLU, NAACP, the Green Party, and the Libertarian Party, according to a press release from NORML Appalachia of Ohio.
Activists had also hoped to place a marijuana legalization initiative on the statewide ballot this year, but that effort also stalled as the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting social distancing measures made signature gathering all but impossible.
Meanwhile, the Ohio senate recently approved legislation to double the amount of marijuana that is currently decriminalized in the state and reduce criminal penalties for several other drug crimes.