Columbus proposes penalty for 7 oz. of marijuana less than an expired meter
July 15--The Columbus City Council on Monday unveiled legislation it is considering to decriminalize marijuana that would make the fine for being caught in the city with up to 200 grams -- about 7 ounces -- less than the cost of letting your parking meter expire.
Being caught with up to 100 grams would be a $10 fine; between 100 and 200 grams would cost $25. And unlike state law, up to 200 grams would not come with possible jail time, under the first reading of the ordinance. Over 200 grams would still constitute a felony.
Being caught with marijuana paraphernalia would also be a $10 fine, the ordinance says.
Council spokeswoman Lee Cole said the council could vote on the ordinance at its next meeting Monday, but first has scheduled a public hearing on the reduced penalties for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at city hall.
"We want to know what residents think about on proposed reforms," Council President Shannon G. Hardin said in a written statement released after the meeting. "We are having serious conversations about inequalities in the criminal justice system.
"There are two key elements to the proposal: lowering fines for small amounts of marijuana possession and increasing funds for Legal Aid attorneys to help seal records for minor convictions so Columbus residents can get good-paying jobs."
Cole said the fine amounts were drafted by the council's legislative staff, with input from various city officials, and could change before the final version of the ordinance is voted on.
"Given the racial inequities that exist with enforcement of marihuana laws locally and nationwide, the recent legalization of medical marihuana in the state of Ohio, and the number of recent ballot initiatives and ordinances liberalizing marihuana laws in municipalities such as Toledo, Dayton, and Cincinnati, (Columbus) Council has determined that the potential penalties for misdemeanor marijuana possession should be lowered from the standard set" by the state of Ohio, according to a background paper attached to the proposed ordinance.
Cincinnati council voted last month to do away with fines for up to 100 grams or about 3.5 ounces.
Ohio law currently imposes a $150 fine for less than 100 grams, and $250 fine and up to 30 days in jail for between 100 and 200 grams, according to NORML, the pot pro-legalization group.
Columbus' proposed ordinance "will further the city's efforts to address criminal penalties that have disproportionate effects on communities of color," the background paper said.
The fines wouldn't apply to "any person who obtained the marihuana pursuant to a lawful prescription issued by a licensed health professional authorized to prescribe drugs," the ordinance says.
Being convicted under the new ordinance would "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."
In other business Monday, the council:
â€¢ Found that signatures on a petition to steer $57 million in city money toward green-energy initiatives was "legally sufficient. Hardin said that another ordinance placing the measure before voters will come later this month.
â€¢ Authorized $9.4 million to Elford, Inc. for construction of a new 24,698-square-foot Fire Station 16 to be located at 1465 Oakland Park Avenue. The facility will replace the existing Station 16 at 1130 Weber Road that was constructed in 1952. The new station is expected to open in late 2020.
â€¢ Approved a $5.1 million contract with Siemens, about half of which is from a federal grant, to "integrate connected vehicles" by installing technology into vehicles to "communicate with the environment." Siemens representative Mark Rogers the equipment will allow cars to communicate with each other and with traffic signals to improve safety.