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New Marijuana Laws Could Bring Criminal Justice Reform to Ohio

Travis Irvine Travis Irvine New Marijuana Laws Could Bring Criminal Justice Reform to Ohio
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As Ohio slowly moves toward implementing its medical marijuana program this fall — and full legalization could potentially be on the ballot next year — it’s worth looking into how criminal justice reforms are being enacted around the nation with the plant’s newfound legal status, and how these same reforms could possibly come to the Buckeye State.

For example, with California’s recent full marijuana legalization, the state enacted sweeping criminal justice reforms pertaining to non-violent drug offenders. Proposition 64 included new rules that would allow marijuana convictions to be resentenced (provided the person isn’t a threat to public safety) and for cannabis felonies and misdemeanors to be wiped from criminal records.

San Francisco is already in the process of expunging convictions dating back to 1975, a game changer for former prisoners trying to reenter society and find jobs. Some California cities are even prioritizing their licensing process to make it easier for drug felons to get into the now-legal business they were once a part of, making them a valuable part of this new economy.

Overall, these policies could affect close to a million people in the state who have served time in prison for marijuana at one point or another.

The reasoning behind this is pretty simple. With the legalization of the drug and the industry around it, it no longer makes sense to keep people who were once perpetrators of old marijuana laws in prison, for moral or financial reasons. Considering that more than 465,000 people were arrested for marijuana related crimes in California between 2005 and 2016 alone — with people of color being three times as likely to be arrested — it’s fair to say these outdated rules have still been in effect (and strongly enforced) until recently.

In Ohio, these same common sense criminal justice reforms could have similar positive impacts as the plant is supposed to at least become legal for medical reasons this fall, as long as the program doesn’t get delayed by various logistical issues.

Nonetheless, there are still those who like to point out that Ohio’s recent decriminalization of the plant has led to a significant decrease in the amount of marijuana arrests in the last few years and only 2.5 percent of Ohio inmates are in prison for marijuana charges. Of course, others would argue that this is still too many.

Even if our state legislators keep dragging their feet on marijuana, as they’ve certainly done so far, there could be hope for non-violent drug offenders from the federal level. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have worked together in the past to see the end of mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and Booker has even put forward the Marijuana Justice Act, which would effectively strip marijuana of its Schedule I drug status and allow states to regulate the substance like alcohol.

If worse comes to worse, perhaps a branch of the federal government will enact these common sense drug reforms before those in Ohio’s statehouse. Either way, it’s high time to do so.

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