Marijuana remains a hot topic in Portsmouth as the Cleveland Branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has been collecting signatures to decriminalize marijuana in the city of Portsmouth, an initiative similar to what has already been done in Toledo, says Executive Director for Cleveland NORML Alison Kareem.
Members of NORML were in town this week collecting signatures for legislation they hope to see passed in Portsmouth. They also attended the Portsmouth public hearing regarding a medical marijuana dispensary within the City.
Kareem explained to members of council at the hearing that marijuana use contributes to a major burden on the criminal justice system across the nation.
“In 2015 nationwide, there were over 600,000 arrests made for marijuana throughout the country,” Kareem explained. “The federal average, I believe, nationwide that they’re giving is $32,000 per person per year per incarceration. African Americans are arrested at four times the rate of white Americans, even though the figures show they participate (in marijuana use) basically at the same rate.”
According to Kareem, these arrests contribute to problems existing for often understaffed police departments and use resources that could better be utilized solving other crimes.
As a result, Cleveland NORML was in Portsmouth to see a legislative change.
“I would also like to mention that we have come down today. We have some language for an ordinance, and we doing a ballot issue petition here in your City to further decriminalize misdemeanor amounts of marijuana,” Kareem stated.
Kareem explained to Council the current penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
“[I]n the State of Ohio, it is a misdemeanor if you are at under 200 grams of cannabis in your possession. From 0-100 grams, it is a $150 ticket. From 100-199, there’s a dollar amount and a possibility, I believe, of up to 30 days in jail.”
She explained that the local petition being circulated by NORML would be similar to that in Toledo, which is no fine and no jail time.
“[F]or small amounts of marijuana, the police would not have to be burdened with worrying about who has an ounce, who has a quarter ounce, who has a joint, having to do the paperwork or worrying about what’s in somebody’s car,” Kareem explained. “What they did in Toledo was that the law director told the police department, ‘We are just not going to pursue small amounts of possession.’ It freed up their officers to spend more of their time pursuing violent crime – rapists, child molesters. As I’m sure you know, we have at least 250,000 women in America right now who are being human trafficked. We have fentanyl and carfentanil in the streets that are being included with cocaine, heroin and other things. I know law enforcement that I have personally spoken with would like to pursue those types of crimes versus a plant that has never been known to kill anyone.”
According to an article in the Toledo Blade, Toledo passed their penalty abolishing legislation called the “Sensible Marijuana Ordinance” in 2016.
Kareem further explained that according to the National Institute of Health, marijuana has been proven to be a gateway off drugs, while alcohol and tobacco are gateways onto drugs.
In order to pass this no fine, no jail time legislation, NORML has been circulating a petition to have the initiate go to special ballot; however, Kareem explained that there is no need for a special election, stating that Council could vote to change the current City ordinance outlining no fine and no jail time in the penalties of the legislation.
“I think it would give you a good financial standing. It would give you great respect in this community and it could really deter serious crime from happening,” Kareem informed Portsmouth City Council.
NORML has been collecting signatures in the Save-A-Lot parking lot in Portsmouth. They have also been knocking on doors around the City. Signatures are only valid if from Portsmouth residents who are also registered voters.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.