PORTSMOUTH — During the city manager’s conference Monday, Portsmouth City Council voted 5-0 to request a change in the city ordinances which would decriminalize possession of marijuana for amounts under 200 grams, bringing it to a first reading at the next council meeting.
Requested by 1st Ward Councilman Sean Dunne, the new legislation would amend Chapter 513.03 Drug Abuse; Controlled Substance Possession or Use of the city ordinances. Under the current legislation, possession of the drug could lead up to 30 days in prison and $250 in fines.
“We find a lot of people make mistakes and get this criminal label,” said Dunne, which leads to the “destruction of lives.”
“Certainly this is a more progressive way of thinking,” added 2nd Ward Councilwoman Charlotte Gordon. “I think long term this will be a very positive thing for our youth.”
After reading medical studies, Dunne believes this change could help decrease the number of opioid overdoses in Scioto County, where Harm Reduction Ohio reports the highest death rate per capita in the state each year since 2018. Yet, the National Institute of Drug Abuse states more research needs to be conducted in order to fully understand the relationship.
One research team funded by NIDA found that between 1999 and 2010 opioid overdose mortality rates in states allowing medical marijuana use were 21% lower than expected. When the analysis was extended through 2017, however, they found that the trend reversed, states with these laws experienced an overdose death rate 22.7% higher than expected.
Another rationale behind this would be to decrease the rates of mass incarceration that Dunne learned about in Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow.” He said policing on this issue has led to more destruction and caused increased penalties for more subjugated groups in the country and Portsmouth.
“The war on drugs is not exclusive to the African American community,” he said, who the American Civil Liberties Union reports are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people. “It’s now affecting white, working class communities.”
Unlike wealthier individuals, Dunne said this group likely cannot afford a private attorney or pay for the offense to be removed from their permanent record.
The PortsmouthDailyTimesreached out to the Portsmouth Police Department for data on the number of marijuana-related arrests and convictions in the city, but Records Clerk Tammy Woods said they do not track this information. Freeing them up from enforcement will save the department time and money, projects Dunne.
Working as a mentor in the Juvenile Drug Court system, 5th Ward Councilman Edwin Martell said marijuana is often a catalyst for children to get caught up in the system. To prevent this, he has argued for lighter or no charges for many minors.
“I think decriminalization of marijuana would be a big start in helping some of these kids,” Martell said.
Mayor Kevin E. Johnson had mixed emotions on the amendment, seeing it as an option to improve the employability of the city’s citizens but also believing the 200-gram amount, slightly less than 1 pound, to be rather high. However, Dunne said this amount has been the common number among other state cities like Cincinnati and Cleveland who have adopted legislation.
Council stressed that this amendment would not mean legalization as it is still illegal in Ohio. Those using marijuana are still liable to drug tests at their place of employment as well.
Dunne hopes that with its passing in Portsmouth that the state Legislature will either take steps to legalize, becoming the 12th state to permit recreational marijuana or to institute more common sense policies.
City Council will meet again at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 24, in the Shawnee State ballroom. The meeting is closed to the public due to the coronavirus, but can be streamed on the Portsmouth City Government Facebook page.
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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