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Ohio Police Plan To Ignore Marijuana Ballot Measure

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Even if voters in a Cincinnati enclave approve a local marijuana depenalization measure this fall, the city’s police chief has promised to continue arresting and charging cannabis consumers with misdemeanors under state law, which will remain unchanged.

Norwood, Ohio is a city of about 20,000 people located entirely within the city limits of much-larger Cincinnati in Hamilton County.

On Monday, the Hamilton County Board of Elections announced a ballot measure that would eliminate all criminal penalties for possession of 200 grams or less of marijuana will appear on Norwood voters’ ballots in November after activists collected a sufficient number of signatures to qualify the measure.

Simple possession of marijuana in Ohio is currently a misdemeanor, punishable by a $150 fine. Possession of between 100 and 200 grams is a misdemeanor that carries penalties of no more than 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. The ballot initiative would remove all such fines and penalties under city code.

But even if Norwood voters approve the measure, Norwood police will continue to make marijuana arrests as before, police Chief William Kramer told the Cincinnati Enquirer, and charge offenders under the harsher state law.

“This [ballot initiative] deals with Norwood’s codified ordinance and doesn’t have anything to do with state law,” Kramer told the newspaper. “We really wouldn’t change how we do things. We would simply, from the very beginning, charge them under state code.”

Kramer’s intransigence comes despite a steady march towards relaxed marijuana laws in Ohio and across the country.

State lawmakers in Ohio legalized medical cannabis in 2016. Patients are due to access cannabis in retail dispensaries in the coming months. And activists are considering pursuing a statewide 2019 ballot measure that would legalize recreational marijuana statewide

And other police forces in cities in Ohio and across the country are taking a more relaxed stance towards marijuana possession.

According to NORML, more than 50 local governments in 12 states have either fully or partially decriminalized “minor cannabis possession offenses.”

This includes the following cities in Ohio: Athens, Bellaire, Logan, Newark, Roseville and Toledo. Of these, Toledo, at about 278,000 people, is by far the largest in the state.

Meanwhile, voters in additional Ohio cities like Fremont, Nelsonville and Oregon might have the chance to vote on cannabis depenalization measures in November as well.

However, state lawmakers as well as law enforcement elsewhere in the U.S. have found ways to scotch local plans to decriminalize marijuana possession and re-prioritize police practices.

Twelve out of the 61 police jurisdictions in Harris County, Texas—where police can refer marijuana offenders to a diversion program rather than the criminal justice system—have so far declined to participate, the Houston Chronicle reported.

And in Tennessee, where city councils in both Memphis and Nashville passed decriminalization laws, Republican state lawmakers responded with their own bill, signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam, that repealed both local decriminalization measures.

Back in Norwood, a 2016 proposal to relax enforcement of marijuana crimes was rejected by the Board of Elections, after the agency’s chairman said that proponent Sensible Norwood’s proposal went too far in prohibiting police from referring marijuana offenders to state courts.

That led to this year’s slightly watered-down proposal—which, as Chief Kramer is demonstrating, may be too weak to be obeyed.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Chris Roberts is a reporter and writer based in San Francisco. He has covered the cannabis industry since 2009, with bylines in the Guardian, Deadspin, Leafly News, The Observer, The Verge, Curbed, Cannabis Now, SF Weekly and others.

Politics

Key Congressional Committee Officially Schedules Vote On Marijuana Legalization Bill

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A key House committee has officially announced that a vote on a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill is scheduled for this week.

The House Judiciary Committee said on Monday that the panel will mark up legislation introduced by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), which would federally deschedule cannabis and address social equity, on Wednesday at 10:00 AM ET. The announcement confirms what sources familiar with the planned development told Marijuana Moment last week.

Nadler’s Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act has been lauded by advocates for its emphasis on restorative justice for communities most impacted by the drug war.

It calls for a five percent federal tax on marijuana sales, and that revenue would be used to fund programs such as job training, legal aid for those affected by prohibition and small business loans for individuals who are socially and economically disadvantaged. The bill also seeks to lift barriers to licensing and employment in the industry.

Additionally, the legislation would expunge the records of those with prior cannabis convictions, provide for resentencing, block federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances as a result of marijuana use and protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis.

“A supermajority of Americans, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents, support regulating the use of marijuana by responsible adults,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a press release. “Thanks to the leadership of the House Judiciary chairman, never in history have we been closer to ending the failed policy of marijuana criminalization and providing pathways to opportunity for our brothers and sisters who have suffered under its oppressive reign.”

“The MORE Act is the most comprehensive marijuana policy reform bill ever introduced in Congress and is backed by a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups. Those who oppose this legislation moving forward are defenders of a failed status-quo that ruins the lives of otherwise law-abiding adults on a daily basis, overwhelming enforced against the poor and communities of color.”

Text of an amendment in the nature of a substitute from Nadler that Judiciary members will take up was also released on Monday. It includes a new “findings” section that discusses racial disparities in marijuana enforcement, the growing state-level legalization movement and the challenges that individuals from disadvantaged communities face in participating in the market.

“The communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition are benefiting the least from the legal marijuana marketplace,” one provision reads. “A legacy of racial and ethnic injustices, compounded by the disproportionate collateral consequences of 80 years of cannabis prohibition enforcement, now limits participation in the industry.

Much of the language of the new section is borrowed from a resolution that Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, introduced last year.

“The data speaks for itself—low-income communities and communities of color have disproportionately borne the brunt of the devastation brought on by marijuana prohibition,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “The MORE Act is the most robust bipartisan legislation so far not only to end federal marijuana prohibition, but also to ensure that the communities that have been hardest hit by prohibition are not left behind.”

“It would be a tragic mistake to have the only marijuana reform bill that passes this Congress be one that solely benefits the industry, despite both the unprecedented support for legalization nationally amongst Americans and all the harm that we know federal prohibition has caused to individuals and communities across this country,” she said. “Fortunately, by ensuring the MORE Act moves forward, several leaders in the House are showing that they understand that this is a matter of fundamental justice that the US Congress needs to address.”

Advocates have been eagerly awaiting a committee vote on the MORE Act, especially since the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to protect banks that service the cannabis industry in September. Some groups, including the ACLU, had implored leadership to delay the banking vote until the chamber passed legislation like the MORE Act that addresses social equity.

Committee members on both sides of the aisle will be able to introduce amendments to the legislation, but it’s generally expected to advance out of the panel and onto the floor. That said, its fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is far from certain.

Read the full text of the new amendment to the MORE Act below: 

MORE Act by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Biden Says Marijuana Might Be A Gateway Drug

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Politics

Biden Says Marijuana Might Be A Gateway Drug

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Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) said on Saturday that he’s not sure if marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to the use of other, more dangerous substances.

“The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” the 2020 presidential candidate claimed at a town hall meeting in Las Vegas. “It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Vote To Federally Legalize Marijuana Planned In Congress

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A key congressional committee plans to hold a historic vote on a bill to end the federal prohibition of marijuana next week, two sources with knowledge of the soon-to-be-announced action said.

The legislation, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and set aside funding to begin repairing the damage of the war on drugs, which has been disproportionately waged against communities of color.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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