Yesterday, Columbus City Council president Shannon Hardin held a hearing in Council chambers about reducing the penalties for possession of marijuana. Hardin says this conversation is well overdue.
The legalization of medical marijuana in Ohio pushes this issue to the forefront even more. Hardin says the city needs to have a drug policy that is fair for everyone.
Council research found an estimated 1,500 cases of marijuana possession over the last three years in Columbus. Council president Hardin says 60% of those cases have been brought against African-Americans and, of that, 50% of the defendants are young males.
“Someone in Columbus right now can have medical marijuana and get pulled over and be perfectly fine,” Hardin said. “Another person, who probably looks like me, can get pulled over and has a different type of marijuana, but it’s still marijuana, now is into the criminal justice system.”
Hardin wants community feedback on his proposal to reduce penalties for low-level marijuana possession charges. He also wants to ensure those offenders have to ability to seal their misdemeanor record so a minor marijuana offense doesn’t impede someone’s ability to get a job or find a place to live.
“If you have the unfortunate mistake of being young once – that you should not have a penalty on your record that prohibits you from being a part of the success that is Columbus,” Hardin said.
Several other Ohio cities have adopted reduced penalties under local ordinances for possession of smaller amounts of marijuana. Dayton, for example, eliminated the fine for possession of 100 grams or less. And in Newark, voters approved the elimination of penalties for amounts under 200 grams. However, city law director Doug Sassen says it has not changed enforcement under state law.
Hardin is clear to state that he has no intention of trying to decriminalize marijuana possession and does not encourage people to use marijuana. What he does want is to level the playing field.
“We have a saying, ‘if it’s not for all, it’s not for us,’” Hardin said. “We need to have a drug policy in Columbus that is fair for all and I believe this is the time that we, at least, come together and have that conversation.”