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Council Reduces Penalties for Low-Level Marijuana Possession

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Columbus City Council has taken marijuana reform into their own hands. The Council on Monday night voted unanimously to reduce penalties for marijuana and paraphernalia possession as well as fund a record-sealing program aimed at ending barriers to employment for those who already have convictions.

“We are not endorsing drug use. But while folks in some parts of town can legally profit from medical marijuana, it’s important we do what we can to help those folks in other parts of Columbus who face criminal charges, hefty fines, and barriers to employment for marijuana possession,” said Council President Shannon Hardin in a press release. “We’re taking an important first step to help remove barriers to employment for folks in our community.”

Penalties for low-level marijuana possession are $10 for less than 100 grams, and $25 for less than 200 grams, but greater than or equal to 100 grams. And, residents with a criminal record because of low-level possession can now apply to have their records sealed through the Legal Aid Society of Columbus.

As part of the legislation, a minor misdemeanor violation does not constitute a criminal record, so residents don’t need to include those violations on applications for “employment, license, or other right or privilege.” 

After an initial announcement, the penalty changes were considered over two public hearings, stakeholder sessions, and a survey, which yielded 4,086 responses.

According to the survey, these changes are supported by Columbus residents, with over 90 percent believing marijuana for recreational or personal use should be legal, and that the city should reduce or eliminate criminal penalties for low-level possession. Ninety-five percent support funding a record-sealing program to increase access to housing and employment opportunities.

Black men under the age of 25 will be greatly impacted by this legislation, as they make up a large number of those charged with possession of marijuana or paraphernalia. According to the press statement, 62 percent of residents charged with possession are black men, and nearly half of all defendants were 25 years old or younger. In turn, these convictions impact employment, housing, and educational opportunities for thousands of Columbus residents.

“These changes can be transformative,” said Councilmember Shayla Favor. “Criminal records impact employment, housing and college opportunities for thousands of people in our community. I am proud that we listened to community feedback and changed the code to keep people out of the criminal justice system unnecessarily, and help those already there.”

For more information, visit columbus.gov

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