Columbus City Council introduced a measure this week to drastically reduce penalties for marijuana possession.
The measure would reduce the penalty for possession of up to 100 grams—about a quarter pound—to just $10. Possession of 100-200 grams would come with a $25 fine. Both would be classified as a minor misdemeanor.
Those penalties are about 1/10th of what offenders face under state charges. Under Ohio law, possession of 200 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor, carrying penalties of $250 and up to 30 days in jail. Amounts of upto 100 grams carry a citation of $100.
Under the Columbus proposal, possession of up to 200 grams would not lead to jail time. The ordinance would also clarify that offenders don't have to report violations as part of a criminal record, if asked by potential employers or professional licensing boards.
Local leaders say they’re making the change in response to persistent racial disparities in enforcement of drug crimes. Council spokeswoman Lee Cole says they also want to increase funds for attorneys to help seal records for minor convictions, to assist jobseekers.
State courts have already ruled it is unconstitutional to have a prohibition without a penalty. Columbus’ decision to reduce the fine, instead of eliminating it entirely, might protect the ordinance from a court challenge.
Council will host a public hearing to discuss the plan Thursday and could vote on final passage as soon as next Monday.
Cincinnati’s council voted last month to decriminalize possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana. That ordinance would also scrap jail time if marijuana wasn't being used in a public place.
Other towns around Ohio, such as Marion, have seen their own citizen-led efforts to decriminalize marijuana.