Dayton Voters Decide Whether to End Penalties for Marijuana Violations

In November, Dayton voters will get to decide whether to decriminalize possessing small quantities of marijuana, which would make Dayton one of the few Ohio communities to remove penalties for recreational drug possession. The Dayton City Commission approved placing a measure on the Nov. 6 ballot that could lead to the city eliminating fines and potentially jail punishments for pot possession. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said the war on drugs has been a complete failure, and criminalizing marijuana has not stopped a huge share of the population from using the drug and unfortunately it has put many people behind bars who do not belong there.

Dayton citizens in a few months will get a chance to have their voices heard on marijuana, and if they want to decriminalize it, hopefully that would allow Dayton law enforcement to focus on more important priorities, the mayor said. If decriminalization is approved by voters, Dayton would join a growing list of cities across the country that have decreased or removed the penalties for lower-level marijuana violations, including Pittsburgh, Pa., and Detroit, Mich. Public opinion on marijuana has been leaning towards decriminalization and legalization, but some anti-drug advocates have argued that removing the legal punishments of marijuana possession will lead to increased availability and use of the drug.

If the ballot measure passes, the city would eliminate the $150 fine for minor misdemeanor marijuana and hashish possession offenses. Right now under city code, the possession of 100 grams or less of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor punishable by a $150 fine. Possession of between 100 to 200 grams is a fourth degree misdemeanor, which is a jailable offense of up to 30 days. Officials also said that the city could change the code so that possessing drug paraphernalia associated with marijuana and hashish offenses would be a minor misdemeanor.

Despite this, marijuana will still be illegal in Ohio no matter how Dayton residents vote because the measure would not impact state or federal laws. If decriminalization succeeds at the ballot, city leaders will have to work out exactly how to amend the law, and multiple city departments will need to have internal discussions about how to apply and enforce city code.

Frank T. Luciano has almost 40 years of experience in defending drug and DWI/DUI cases in Hackensack and elsewhere. He is also a lifetime member of the legal committee of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

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