Columbus Stops Prosecuting Misdemeanor Marijuana Possession Charges | WOSU Radio

Columbus Stops Prosecuting Misdemeanor Marijuana Possession Charges

Aug 7, 2019

The Columbus City Attorney’s Office says it will no longer prosecute misdemeanor charges of marijuana possession, effective immediately.

In a press release Wednesday, City Attorney Zach Klein says his office is also dismissing all pending charges of marijuana possession.

Klein's new policy cites recent legislation signed by Gov. Mike DeWine, which legalized hemp production and CBD products in Ohio. Previously, hemp and CBD oil were considered the same as marijuana under Ohio law.

“The passage of Senate Bill 57 requires a distinction between hemp and marijuana, but our current drug testing technology is not able to differentiate, so we will not have the evidence required to prosecute these cases,” Klein says. “As we continue to review these policies, SB 57 has opened up a broader conversation about how we should prosecute minor misdemeanor marijuana possession cases in the future.”

Klein also mentions the recent ordinance passed by Columbus City Council, which slashes penalties and eliminates jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the local measures, people caught with less than 100 grams of marijuana would be fined just $10, while people caught with 100-250 grams would be fined $25.

“Considering the substantial cost of new equipment and testing versus the possible benefit of prosecuting these often-dismissed cases, in addition to the recent ordinance passed by Columbus City Council, we plan on engaging in further discussions on whether to make this new policy permanent,” Klein said.

In division wide email obtained by WOSU, Interim Police Chief Tom Quinlan shared with officers what he told City Attorney Klein.

“I can live with the language as long as we agree to continue pursuing charges of other crimes that originated from a MM [minor misdemeanor] marijuana stop," Quinlan says he told Klein. "Therefore an officer questions someone with what’s believed to be pot and the person obstructs official business or the like I would reject the idea the officer did not have an underlying basis to stop and investigate potential illegal activity."

Quinlan expressed concern about unintended consequences from the change to Attorney Klein, and suggests not making the policy permanent. He also brought up an effort to create an officer lounge, as compensation for what he terms "pulling another tool from them when policing our most violent neighborhoods."

The City Attorney’s Office echoes that point. The office will also keep its policy on OVIs based on marijuana intoxication.

Klein's policy change doesn't mean marijuana possession charges will stop entirely: The Franklin County Prosecutor's Office can still pursue state charges on possession. State penalties remain at $100 for possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana, and $250 and up to 30 days in jail for possession of up to 200 grams.

Council members said they wanted the penalty changes in response to persistent racial disparities in the enforcement of drug crimes.