Cincinnati City Council voted five-three Wednesday to decriminalize the possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana.
The ordinance states "no person shall knowingly obtain, possess, or use marijuana, in an amount less than one-hundred grams."
People could still be cited for possession, but the fine would be $0 and there would be no jail time if the marijuana was not being used in a public place. Such an arrest would not result in a criminal record and would not have to be reported on job employment applications.
Voting for the measure: Christopher Smitherman, Jeff Pastor, Chris Seelbach, Greg Landsman and Wendell Young. Those opposing: Tamaya Dennard, David Mann and Amy Murry. P.G. Sittenfeld was excused from the meeting.
Vice Mayor Smitherman called it critical legislation.
"In order to free black men, like me, who are facing the over-criminalization of small amounts of marijuana in the city of Cincinnati," Smitherman said. "I would say that since we've been debating this, each week 100 African American men have been impacted by this law. We've got to stop it."
Greg Landsman told the group he's been supporting this issue since writing about it during his senior year of high school.
"We have for far too long put people away for something that I believe should be legal, I believe will be legal, and so I am very thrilled to be voting on this today," Landsman said.
Council Member David Mann voted no for a couple reasons. First, he's still concerned about the amount of marijuana exempted by the ordinance. He did praise the sponsors for reducing it from 200 to 100 grams, but he preferred less than an ounce, or about 28 grams.
Mann is also concerned there's no age of use regulation in the legislation.
"I remain very troubled by the blessing that this ordinance gives to possession by a minor," Mann said. "This says it's OK if you're 12 years old in Cincinnati to possess 100 grams of marijuana. Why on earth are we doing that? It doesn't make any sense to me."
Council Member Tamaya Dennard said the only way she could support the measure was if she had assurances that the city would be clearing, or expunging, convictions of people who've been arrested for marijuana possession in the past.
"But I can't in good nature say let's move forward and decriminalize this without doing something about the lives that this has already destroyed," Dennard said.
Smitherman said he's working with the city's law department on the expungement issue.
Assistant City Solicitor Luke Blocher said the office is working on ordinances, but it’s complicated.
"As a general matter, the expungement process is ultimately a decision of the municipal court, and somebody needs to apply to be expunged," Blocher said. "But the city can take various positions to support and facilitate that, and we're going to be working to try to figure out what is the most effective and efficient way to carry that forward."
This latest ordinance will take effect in 30 days.
The measure only applies to city police officers who issue possession citations. Hamilton County Sheriff's deputies and Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers can issue citations under state law.
In Ohio, possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense, which can result in up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. For amounts up to 100 grams, that's a citation of up to $150.