Cannabis, Ohio, and Election Night 2017: If there isn't a penalty, is it a crime?

November 11, 2017

In the small college town of Athens, OH, as with the rest of the state, marijuana possession of under 200 grams is classified as a misdemeanor offense. As of the 7th of November, however, a city-wide ordinance was voted in that will change what exactly that means for its residents — all without altering the law itself.


Under current Ohio state law, marijuana possession of less than 100 grams carries a maximum fine of $150, and between 100 and 200 grams ups the consequences to a maximum fine of $250 and a maximum of 30 days jail time. Until this past Tuesday, this was also the case in Athens. With the passage of the Athens Cannabis Ordinance (from here on out referred to as TACO, the most delightful of acronyms), however, the consequences for a misdemeanor marijuana offense will change drastically. Simply put, there won’t be any.


Decriminalization has been a persistent strategy for incremental progress for decades, but TACO takes it one step further. Unlike most decriminalization efforts, which aim to lessen the severity of penalties associated with current state and federal cannabis laws, depenalization—as the name suggests—removes those penalties entirely. In other words, marijuana possession is still on the books as a misdemeanor offense, but the traditional repercussions of fines and/or jail time will no longer exist.


Why depenalization? Like many other pro-legalization campaigns worldwide, TACO’s champions emphasize its strategic value: as the Ohio University-based Post Athens reports, their goal in introducing the ordinance was primarily to disincentivize the enforcement of misdemeanor violations by removing money from the equation. It’s an innovative solution, and one that’s seen success across Ohio over the past two years — Athens is actually the fifth Ohio city to adopt a depenalization approach.

Of course, TACO and similar measures aren’t without opposition. Notably, the Ohio University campus police will not recognize the local ordinance and will continue to operate under state law with its attendant penalties. Regardless, it’s important to note that TACO passed with an overwhelming 77% support. Though it’s one small, incomplete victory, its success points to an openness to change that could have positive effects for future marijuana legalization efforts, both throughout the state and beyond.


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