Commentary

09.04.15

Time for Voters in Toledo to Get Sensible about Marijuana

By

Marijuana leaves

If you live in Ohio and are inclined to follow political news and developments, you are already aware voters will be asked in November whether or not they favor legalizing marijuana in Ohio.

What you probably do not know is Toledo voters have a similar issue on their citywide ballot.  With early voting, they are already casting their ballots prior to the city’s September 15 election day.

What’s Issue One in Toledo?

Unlike the statewide ballot initiative, Toledo’s proposed statute does not seek to legalize marijuana. Even with the approval of Toledo voters, that would be a losing battle because state law trumps local governments in this regard. Instead, Issue One in Toledo would decriminalize marijuana and make other common sense changes to that city’s drug laws.

Now, if you are fairly knowledgeable about this issue, you already know state legislators, to their credit, decriminalized marijuana throughout Ohio decades ago. However, because Ohio is a “home rule” state, local governments are free to pass and enforce certain categories of laws on their own so long as they do not conflict with state law.

This has resulted in slightly different marijuana laws in and around Ohio depending on where you are. For instance, being caught with even small amounts of marijuana in Medina means a first-degree misdemeanor and a mandatory three days in jail for those convicted.

“For decades, the answer to drug problems for government and law enforcement has been incarceration and punishment. By all objective measures, that approach has been a resounding failure.”

Plus, even with marijuana decriminalized under Ohio state law, people still find themselves on the wrong end of the law with paraphernalia charges, suspended drivers’ licenses, court fees and fines, employment issues, housing problems, and other negative ramifications. Indeed, decriminalization does not mean free from all consequences.

What Will Issue One Do?

So, it’s truly refreshing to see that committed activists in Toledo joined together to work for positive change under the banner of Sensible Toledo. Those changes include:

  • Preventing the jailing or fining of offenders for a variety of offenses such as possession, use, and trafficking. Also, it would prevent sentencing anyone to probation or any other punitive or rehabilitative impositions. This applies even to felony offenses.
  • Preventing civil and criminal forfeiture for violations. Forfeiture is when government seizes someone’s car, home, or cash. Often times, such seizures take place even when a person has not been convicted of any criminal wrongdoing. This has been a major concern for civil libertarians for a long time.
  • Suspending all court costs for minor misdemeanor violations. (We know a little something about that problem here at the ACLU of Ohio.)
  • Reporting offenses to authorities, other than the Toledo city attorney, would be prohibited.

A Blueprint for Others

Even better, the Sensible Toledo plan and language provides a blueprint for activists around Ohio to repeat this effort in their own communities. Given the legislature’s lack of action on marijuana legalization, committed efforts in cities and counties could be more important than ever, depending on what happens in November with the statewide ballot initiative.

For decades, the answer to drug problems for government and law enforcement has been incarceration and punishment. By all objective measures, that approach has been a resounding failure.

Sensible Toledo provides a much needed, different way of doing things, and it deserves the support of all Toledo voters. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.

 

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