Is it time for Portsmouth to decriminalize marijuana? Portsmouth City Council voted 5-0 in favor of a plan to change city ordinances to lessen the pot penalty. Under the new rules, possession of less than 200 grams (7 ounces) of marijuana would no longer be a criminal offense. If you’re caught with that much pot now, you could face a month in jail and a $250 fine. The measure was introduced by First Ward Councilman, Sean Dunne
That doesn’t mean pot becomes legal in Portsmouth. City residents are still under Ohio law. In fact, County Prosecutor Shane Tieman questions whether it’s even possible for the city to decriminalize pot in the state.
Under the proposed, seven ounces of pot will no longer land you in jail assuming you aren’t in violation of another law or terms of your probation or parole. The picture above shows 30 grams. That’s far less than the proposal on the table.
This is just the first step in changing the law. The measure will have its first of three required readings at City Council’s August 24 meeting. Then the council must vote.
I reached out to our elected officials and City Manager Sam Sutherland to ask about their thoughts on the issues. City Manager Sutherland declined to comment but other city and county leaders, including Mayor Kevin E. Johnson and Prosecutor Shane Tieman shared their thoughts. Click the slideshow and see what they had to say.
Kevin E. Johnson – Small Mistakes Shouldn’t Ruin Lives
Portsmouth Mayor and 3rd Ward councilman Kevin E. Johnson doesn’t want to see young lives ruined by small mistakes. “Too many lives have been messed up over a small possession amount. Council feels like they want to change it so that if you’re caught with a small amount, your life isn’t ruined. One mistake won’t hold you down or have lasting implications in your life.” He explained he felt differently about habitual criminals, “If its a repeat situation it’s something completely different.”
Johnson made it clear that he’s not in favor of marijuana use. “I still subscribe to Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just say no.’ But let’s be realists. Young people are going to experiment. People are going to use marijuana, why ruin their lives for a small amount.”
The mayor said that he hopes his children or grandchildren never use marijuana. However, he doesn’t want one mistake to have lasting effects. “Say one of my kids was caught with a small amount. I don’t want my child’s life messed up because of a small mistake.”
Johnson acknowledged that the city could save money on court costs and housing offenders. “It’s saving money by doing this. Not that the money is the root of the legislation. I believe with the problem we have right now of housing folks in jail, I would much rather house violent offenders than somebody that’s arrested for a small possession charge.
Mayor Johnson pointed out that pot laws are confusing in the U.S. “It’s still a mess. State by state, it’s legal in some, in some it’s not. The key thing is that it is still federally illegal. This is just something we’re doing here locally.”
Portsmouth Ohio decriminalize pot
Sean Dunne – Cover This First
Vice President Sean Dunne is the First Ward council representative and the man who proposed the legislation. However, he didn’t want to talk make a statement unless we agreed to do a story he thought was equally important. “I’d be happy to answer questions on that legislation. However, I’d like to first see your website cover the resolution we passed asking the Ohio High School Athletic Association to develop specific policies to address racism in high school sports. This has been covered by other media outlets, and I’m not sure why your website has ignored it.”
While SCDN doesn’t dispute that the issue of racism in high school sports is important, it would be unethical as journalists to agree to cover one news story in exchange for a comment on a current one.
Portsmouth Ohio decriminalize pot
Andrew McManus – We Don’t Encourage Pot Use
Andrew McManus represents the 4th Ward on City Council. He said the law doesn’t mean the city is okay with marijuana use.
“I feel Portsmouth has been becoming more and more progressive. This topic is a strange one to consider as many states have gone for full legalization. It’s almost like we are in limbo regarding this.
In 20 years from now is there legalization across the board? I’m not sure, but if this passes as stated by others on Council this would help not label individuals and dig holes for them to dig out of when establishing/continuing careers. This isn’t to say decriminalization means Portsmouth City Council encourages marijuana use by any means.
I’d imagine employers will still drug test and passes this wouldn’t mean legislation it would mean decriminalization. Two very different things. I also hope to hear more from area businesses and citizens regarding their thoughts on this.”
Portsmouth Ohio decriminalize pot
Prosecutor Shane Tieman – You Can’t Decriminalize Pot
Scioto County Prosecutor Shane Tieman said there could be a problem with the plan. He questioned whether it’s even possible for the city to decriminalize pot.
“With regard to the Portsmouth City Council, they work at the behest of the citizens and are subject to job approval/disapproval via the election process. City matters I generally leave to the City as I am not their legal counsel. However, with regard to potential criminal culpability, it is important for every citizen to understand that, regardless of where you stand on this issue, the City cannot “decriminalize” marijuana. They can eliminate the section that makes it a violation of the City Ordinance, but it is still a crime under Ohio and Federal law.
In Ohio, Revised Code section 2925.11(C)(3) mandates that possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense until it exceeds 200 grams, then it becomes a felony offense. Basically, there are certain threshold amounts that one can possess that will elevate the charge. Also, pursuant to Ohio Revised Code section 2925.03(C)(3), if you traffic in marijuana, it starts as a felony of the fifth degree and elevates based upon the amount and/or if you are near a school or juvenile. Money or other consideration does not need to be exchanged to be considered trafficking.”
Bryan Davis – This Sends The Wrong Message
Scioto County Commissioner Bryan Davis is worried the decriminalization of pot sends the wrong message. “I’m not sure how this type of legislation furthers the economic development position of the city. I believe companies shy away from communities that enact such legislation. This legislation doesn’t make Portsmouth better or more appealing to job creators or entrepreneurs. Why potentially add to the drug problem? It is my understanding the city doesn’t have the power to supersede state law.
I’m not sure if this legislation does. I’m not a lawyer. I am a parent, and I think it sends the wrong message to our young people. Sometimes people need (to be) locked up in jail. Decriminalizing everything is not the answer. It’s the city council’s decision. The citizens will decide if it is a good idea or not. I hope they get a say in the process.”
Cathy Coleman – Last Ditch Effort
County Commissioner Cathy Coleman has a suspicion of why Portsmouth is considering the legislation.
After Commissioner Bryan Davis restated his concerns about the law at Thursday’s Scioto County Commissioners meeting, she explained. “It’s no secret that the city is not fiscally sound. This just seems to me a last ditch effort to raise them out of that status. Coleman said she agreed with all of Commissioner Davis’s concerns. “I hope that they reconsider what they’re doing.”
John McHenry – The Cleaner The Air The Better
County Commissioner Candidate John McHenry is concerned about the medical issues involved with smoking marijuana. “Whatever medical benefits can be derived from Marijuana, I favor 100%. Otherwise, everyone knows it isn’t healthy to put anything in your lungs except air.
And the cleaner the air the better. It took 400 years to figure out what tobacco does. And when we finally did, the tobacco industry still pushed their poison. Still, 28% of the people smoke. It costs a lot of money to clean up after that disease.
I would not agree to any legislation that harms the people. And to whatever extent decriminalization of marijuana laws does, I would not approve of that.”
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