Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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CITY OF TOLEDO

Voters ease penalties for marijuana

Fines, jail will be eliminated for some possession of drug

n4pot

Issue 1 supporters Lynne Pribe, Kevin Spitler, and Carol Hayes-Grocki react to initial reports that Issue 1 is passing. Backers met for results at The Attic on Adams Street.

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Toledo residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of a citizen-led initiative to abolish penalties in city law for possession and cultivation of marijuana on Tuesday, two months before the state’s voters will decide an amendment that would fully legalize the sale and use of marijuana in Ohio.

With all 226 precincts reporting, the vote was 11,197 to 4,760. If it is enforced as written, people could still be prosecuted for possession of marijuana, but would not be jailed or fined for amounts up to 200 grams.

Titled the “Sensible Marihuana Ordinance,” using the spelling already found in the Toledo Municipal Code, the lengthy document that was on the city ballot Tuesday as Issue 1 would replace existing city law.

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The vote on the marijuana issue came as part of a primary election to narrow the field for four city council districts and appears to have driven turnout up to 9 percent — twice the turnout of the last time Toledo held a primary election for council districts, which was in 2011.

Sean Nestor, the manager of the campaign to pass the citizen initiative, thanked voters who supported it and called on city officials to respect what he said was the will of the people.

“This is certainly a historic moment in the state and even in the country. We do expect there to be challenges and we are prepared to meet them with the full political and legal force we can muster,” Mr. Nestor said.

“I do think what we have is pretty potent as far as protecting cannabis users. We feel this is important even on a national scale.”

Under a policy implemented last year by the late Mayor D. Michael Collins, Toledo mostly charges criminal defendants using the Ohio Revised Code rather than city ordinances. The move saves the city the cost of paying jail charges for those inmates.

City Police Chief George Kral said Tuesday that the city will continue that policy. He said he, Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, and City Law Director Adam Loukx will meet as early as today to talk about how to enforce the new Toledo marijuana ordinance.

The ordinance will take effect when the election results are certified by the Lucas County Board of Elections, said Clerk of Council Jerry Dendinger, likely in early October.

Mr. Nestor said it would be “churlish” of the mayor to refuse to enforce the citizen-backed ordinance, which he called “extremely rare,” in order to play “political games with the county.” Mayor Hicks-Hudson was out of town Tuesday night and not available for comment.

Ms. Hicks-Hudson and four of the other seven candidates for mayor in the special mayoral election set for Nov. 3 to replace Mr. Collins had endorsed the ordinance before the election.

Along with Ms. Hicks-Hudson, the supporters were former mayors Carty Finkbeiner and Mike Bell, Councilman Sandy Spang, and former Councilman Mike Ferner. Candidate Sandy Drabik Collins, the widow of Mayor Collins, did not take a position, saying only she would follow the law.

The ordinance abolishes all jail terms and fines for possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana. Depending on how thin the joint is rolled, 200 grams is enough to make up to 400 joints.

The proposed ordinance was drafted as a legislative initiative by a citizen group that turned in a petition with more than 13,000 signatures in 2014. City council rejected the amendment to the city code, on an 11-1 vote, referring it to a vote of the public.

It is unrelated to Issue 3 on the Nov. 3 ballot, the proposed constitutional amendment to legalize recreational and medical use of marijuana and to erect a regulatory system for growing and selling marijuana in Ohio.

In interviews Tuesday, voters who supported the amendment said they believed people shouldn’t be jailed for using marijuana.

“I don’t think people should be prosecuted harshly over a weed crime,” said Jennifer Ison, 25, of West Toledo, as she went into the polling place at Aldersgate United Methodist Church. She said as modest as the criminal penalties already are, interaction with the criminal justice system all by itself can cause problems for people.

“Once people get in the system there are a lot of missteps that can get you stuck in the system forever,” she said.

One voter who cast a “no” vote said decriminalization is a start toward full legalization, which he opposes.

“It’s just the first step downward,” said James Morrissey, 63, after voting at Regina Coeli Church off Bennett Road. He said his wife’s family lives in Denver and has seen negative consequences to legalization there.

Under Toledo’s current code, possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $150 and no jail time. Possession of between 100 and 200 grams is a fourth-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $250.

The ordinance also lumps all amounts greater than 200 grams of marijuana or 10 grams of hashish as a fifth-degree felony, punishable by no prison term or fines. However, Mr. Loukx has said the Toledo Municipal Code cannot amend felony penalties in state law.

Mr. Nestor said the campaign was mainly concerned with enabling possession and home cultivation of pot.

Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058 or on Twitter @TomFTroy.

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