Vote On Marijuana Proposal Delayed

May 15, 2019

A procedural rule prevented Cincinnati City Council from voting Wednesday on an ordinance to take away the penalties for marijuana possession if the city's police department issues citations for such offenses.

The measure would mean people who have 100 grams or less of marijuana would have no fines, no jail time and no court costs.

The proposal fell one vote short of suspending a rule that requires ordinances be read at three different city council meetings. It takes seven votes to do that, and it only received six.

Council members David Mann and Amy Murray voted against suspension because they said the measure is being rushed, and they have concerns and questions that remain unanswered.

"I don't think we understand exactly what we're creating here," Mann said. "With these questions and these concerns I just am not prepared to support this ordinance."

Here's what the proposed ordinance actually would do:

Sec. 910-23, Possession of Marijuana:

  • (A) No person shall knowingly obtain, possess, or use marijuana, in an amount less than one-hundred grams.
  • (B) Whoever violates this section is guilty of possession of marijuana, a minor misdemeanor. Person convicted of violating this section shall be fined $0.00.
  • (C) Arrest of conviction for a minor misdemeanor violation of this section does not constitute a criminal record and need not be reported by the person so arrested or convicted in response to any inquiries about the person's criminal record, including any inquiries contained in any application for employment, license, or other right or privilege, or made in connection with the person's appearance as a witness.
  • (D) All court costs shall be $0.00 for violations of this section herein.

Voters in Norwood passed a similar proposal last November concerning marijuana possession. However, police officers in that city are still issuing citations under state law.

Under Ohio law, possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense, which can result in up to 30 days in jail and up to a $250 fine.  There's a citation and up to a $150 fine for possessing up to 100 grams.

Mayor John Cranley said he personally agrees with those who believe that marijuana should be legal and decriminalized.

"I do think there are a number of unintended consequences that could result from us having different rules than surrounding communities, state and federal law," Cranley said.  "So I think we should be very careful, and if we are going to move forward with something, at a minimum we should follow Police Chief Isaac's recommendation."

Chief Eliot Isaac said he was more comfortable with the law applying to 100 grams or less of marijuana.  The first proposed ordinance for up to 200 grams could also be in front of council next week.

Council Member Wendell Young is supportive of the proposal, but he said he would like more information from the city's police and health departments.

"I want to be cautious when I do this; I want to be knowledgeable when I do this," Young said. "I do realize there are people in our city who will be for this and will be against it. I'm almost at the point where I would rather see a referendum than council act because we would be a lot more sure of what people in the community want."

The police chief would have to decide whether the department would follow the ordinance.  In an email last week to Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman he said, "CPD will enforce all legally enforceable ordinances of the city of Cincinnati."

An email from the city solicitor's office suggests that decision rests with city administration.

"Regardless of whether council passes the decriminalization ordinance, possession of less than 200 grams of marijuana will remain illegal in Cincinnati due to the applicability of state and federal law," wrote Assistant City Solicitor Ashley Pannell. "CPD and other law enforcement agencies operating in Cincinnati will continue to be able to charge under Ohio law even if this ordinance is passed. However, the City administration could direct officers not to charge under Ohio law for marijuana possession as a matter of policy, if deemed appropriate based on the discretion of the City Manager upon consultation with the Chief of Police."