Initiative to depenalize recreational marijuana will be on city ballot

A person rolls a joint outside of Seigfred Hall. Various groups in and around Athens are working to depenalize marijuana in Ohio. (FILE)

Athens residents might soon be able to blaze it with lesser repercussions.

Following the collective efforts of a group of Athens community members, The Athens Cannabis Ordinance was officially added to the Nov. 7 ballot after a petition driven campaign.

This is the second attempt to get the measure on the ballot. The success this year can be attributed to other statewide efforts to depenalize marijuana, Athens resident Caleb Brown said. Brown was one of the leaders of the TACO petition.

Brown said the ordinance uses aspects from the Ohio State Constitution that allow municipalities to alter laws and penalties for misdemeanors within city limits. A common example is varying levels of fines for speeding tickets in different cities.

“Since there are some misdemeanor marijuana offenses in Ohio, the idea is to change the fines and penalties all the way to zero,” Brown said.

Marijuana misdemeanors in Ohio are defined by possession of 200 or less grams. Currently, offenders could spend up to 30 days in jail and be fined up to $250.

To put an initiative petition on a ballot in Ohio, petitioners must gather 10 percent of the number of people who casted votes in the most recent governor election, which was in 2014. In Athens, that equated to 319 signatures.

“Initiative petitions are a really cool thing that we as citizens in Ohio have available to us,” Brown said. “It’s awesome because it’s a safety gap for democracy. … We can by petition enact ordinances and laws as citizens, which is pretty cool.”

Brown said in 2016 they were only a few signatures short, but this year the group garnered 625 signatures, 405 of which were valid.

“The petition this year is a lot cleaner and better,” Brown said. “When we did it last year, there was a lot of pending court cases. It was kind of like a shoot for the moon kind of deal because we didn’t know what we could do. … This year we knew we could make it happen.”

Though Ohio legalized medicinal marijuana in September 2016, Saraquoia, another leader of The Athens Cannabis Ordinance petition, said she was excited by the prospect of Athens depenalizing recreational marijuana use.

“It’s not dangerous,” she said. “We know that our jails are sometimes occupied by people with low-level cannabis offenses and that law enforcement hours are being wasted. … It’s a no brainer to reduce our cannabis (penalties) and denounce the stigma attached to cannabis.”

Students who register to vote in Athens with proof of residence in the city will have the opportunity to vote on the issue in the upcoming election.

“It should be up to the people to decide whether they want to partake or not,” Daniel Ingram, a senior studying recreation management, said. “It’s a lot like alcohol. In small doses, I don’t think it’s a big deal. I don’t think someone should get into that much trouble if they make a small life choice or mistake.”

Saraquoia said although Athens is a small town, she hopes to have influence on surrounding areas.

“It’s baby steps,” she said. “It’s the ways we can affect progress in our community. … We hope other cities snowball and eventually the state will try to push something through the legislature.”


 Originally published for The Post on August 29, 2017.

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