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Council President Wants to Reduce Penalties for Marijuana Possession

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Council President Wants to Reduce Penalties for Marijuana PossessionPhoto by Katheirne Hitt.
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City Council President Shannon Hardin wants to address marijuana possession penalties within the city of Columbus. Though cities’ hands are often tied by the state when it comes to local criminal justice reform, Hardin is working on proposed legislation that could reclassify low level offenses.

“If we’re going to do the things that will ring medical marijuana into common practice in the rest of our community then we need to make sure we’re leveling the playing field,” Hardin says. “Too many folks who look like me are having the snowball effect of minor refractions around marijuana and paraphernalia follow them around and impede important things like education.”

Hardin and his legislative aides have been considering the issue for over a year now, he says, and they’ve looked at several routes to take. Some offenses, like possession of less than 3.5 ounces, can result in a license suspension. Council can’t affect that, though — only the state can.

“Truthfully, it’s very limited [what municipalities can do],” Hardin says.

What council can do is reclassify the possession of less than 10 grams of solid or liquid hash, typically a fourth degree misdemeanor, to a first degree misdemeanor. That would remove the penalty of jail time and impose a maximum fine of $150.

Hardin says that although state Issue 1, aimed at criminal justice reform, failed statewide, its popularity in Franklin County means that, “at least in our city, we need to affect this issue and make sure there’s fairness in the criminal justice system.”

Issue 1 would have reclassified felony 4 and 5 crimes related to drug possession and use to misdemeanors. Its goal was to reduce Ohio’s prison population and reallocate the revenue saved toward drug treatment, crime victim treatment and rehabilitative programs. Though 63 percent of Ohioans voted the issue down, 52 percent of Franklin County voters voted “Yes” on it.

Hardin says council will deliberate over the issue for another couple of months. He expects to have a proposal within the first quarter of 2019.

For more information visit, columbus.gov

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