You will soon be able to walk the streets of Cincinnati, marijuana in hand. After careful debate, the city council passed an ordinance on Wednesday that will make possession of marijuana legal up to three ounces.
Many council members saw the measure as a compromise, but the majority felt the issue was too important to get hung up on individual conditions. “If we don’t do something now, we’ll never do anything,” said council person Wendell Young.
System changes will take effect in 30 days.
Council member Greg Landsman also expressed a sense of urgency for getting a city ordinance decriminalizing small scale possession on the books. “It is well past time to decriminalize marijuana,” he said. “For far too long, we have put people away for something I think should be legal.”
“The distinct smell of compromise is in the air over the great pot debate of 2019,” said Cincinatti news channel WLWT5. It’s true that there was much debate over the plan on the council. In particular, questions regarding age limits on the decriminalization measures and quantity of marijuana that would be decriminalized were of interest to the policy makers. (They eventually opted out of an age restriction on marijuana possession.) Some lawmakers pushed for allowances for public use of cannabis, but those concerns were ultimately overridden.
Before the measure passed, vice mayor Chris Smitherman initially said in the event council members could not reach an agreement, he would spearhead an attempt to get a decriminalization measure on the ballot for November elections. This week, he wavered on that promise and said that the ballot measure would not likely be possible before the November 2020 elections.
Council member Tamaya Dennard was one of the “no” votes on the ordinance, and not because she doesn’t believe in the legalization of cannabis. Rather, Dennard was not on board for any plan that did not provide immediate expungement of past low level cannabis-related offenses.
That concern is well-founded, based on the vast racial discrepancies that were uncovered by a study conducted by the city’s law department. Between January 2004 and May 2019, 16,817 marijuana-related arrests were made. Of this number, 86.2 percent of those arrested were Black. According to the latest US Census, Black people make up only 42.85 percent of the city’s population.
“These are alarming numbers when we start talking about creating a permanent underclass, said Smitherman, referring to the difficulties that such offenses on an individual’s record can cause in terms of finding employment.
Ohio passed House Bill 523 in 2016, which legalized medical marijuana. But establishing the licensing process provided unexpected delays, and the first dispensaries did not start opening their doors until early 2019.