Advocates Applaud Cincinnati's Move To Dismiss Minor Marijuana Charges

Aug 13, 2019

The City of Cincinnati is dismissing all charges for 100 grams or less of marijuana.

Cincinnati Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman says City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething and City Manager Patrick Duhaney noted local legislation decriminalizing small amounts prompted their decision.

In June, City Council voted five to three to decriminalize the possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana.

Ohio Justice Center Deputy Director Sasha Naiman says race disparities in the criminal justice system has a long-term impact. "We know that there is a disparity by race in the criminal legal system," she says. "So, this is a really great step to cut off lifetime barriers and prevent some of the harms the criminal legal system can cause." She says the bigger question is if this helps people who already have records.

The new announcement to dismiss all charges and/or prosecutions will not impact people who have already been charged.

Council Member Tamaya Dennard voted against council's legislation because it didn't include people already charged. But Smitherman says he has a plan for those people. "A charter amendment that places the responsibility on the city of Cincinnati and our law department," he says. "To proactively reach out to those citizens who have low-level drug charges and help them through the process of expunging those drug charges."

In the amendment he's working on, Smitherman says the city would cover the cost. He says it won't help people facing charges in addition to marijuana possession.

Smitherman says that 86% of people charged are African American men.

David Mann is one of the council members who voted against the decriminalizing of marijuana back in June. He says he's concerned that decriminalizing will harm public safety and confuse people when they're outside of city limits. "I think if we are going to go in that direction it ought to be state legislation, not just the city of Cincinnati," he says.

Smitherman says the debate about marijuana is like past conversations about tobacco and alcohol.

Ali Rashid Abdullah works as a community outreach worker in District 5 of the Cincinnati Police, which includes Winton Hills and Northside. "We have a lot of people, particularly African American, who don't have health care," Abdullah says. "They don't go to see the doctor when they're depressed and when they're sick. What they have done to solve it is self-medicate."

He says the new approach the city is taking is common sense.