Cincinnati City Council member Charlie Winburn is pushing to erase low-level marijuana infractions from the records of nearly 10,000 residents. The City Council had an initial vote on Monday which favored the legislation 4-0 and is expecting the fifth and final vote needed to pass the law tomorrow.
Starting back in 2006, the city of Cincinnati was issuing harsher penalties than the state of Ohio for low-level marijuana possession. Yesterday, the Cincinnati City Council heard statements from the Cincinnati Public Defenders Office regarding the severe implications that marijuana penalties can bring to someone’s life. Public housing, access to educational programs, and career paths can all be derailed by a small marijuana infraction under current laws.
Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said that he would have not asked for tougher enforcement if he were in office in 2006. “We’re in support of anything that helps Cincinnati become a better city,” Blackwell said.
Charlie Winburn who is leading the effort to change city policy is aiming to reduce previous penalties to low level misdemeanors, effectively sealing those records. Once “sealed,” infractions in which offenders possessed less than 100 grams of marijuana would be inaccessible from background checks by employers, educational institutions, and some government programs.
“The trend in what we’re seeing across the country is that marijuana is being treated completely differently and it’s kind of sweeping across the United States of America,” said City Council Member Chris Smitherman. This is certainly evident with cities like Philadelphia opting to decriminalize marijuana as recent as last week. Look for more American cities to begin decriminalizing marijuana over the course of the next few years as low-level offenses are increasingly recognized as more harmful than helpful.
As of yesterday Philadelphia is the largest city in America to have decriminalized marijuana. Under the new law offenders will receive a $100 fine for consuming marijuana in public and a $25 fine for possession of up to 30 grams, neither will result in an arrest. Marijuana advocate, US Marine Veteran, and medical marijuana patient Mike Whiter happily accepted the first citation after he urgently sparked a joint in City Hall’s courtyard with police by nearby. Immediately following the first puff the citation was issued and received with a smile.
Whiter sat down with Philly Mag to discuss his motivations and long term goals regarding marijuana.
What message are you trying to send by smoking up at City Hall?
“My intention is to point out that Philadelphia finally decriminalized marijuana, that it’s the largest city in the country to do so, and I’m here representing veterans who use marijuana for medicine. And we still can’t get our medicine legally. I can go out and smoke and get a $100 fine. I won’t get put in cuffs, but I’m still not going to have legal access to my medicine.”
How involved were the police ahead of time?
“We’ve been having discussions with the police since Smoke Down Prohibition VI. After that, we decided that we’d extend an olive branch to them and let them know what our intentions were: just non-violent protesters trying to get our medicine. They were very receptive to sitting down with us and cooperating with us.”
One of the main topics with decriminalization is the racial bias involved with marijuana arrests, and the hope that decriminalization will free up police to fight more serious crimes. Do you think this law will put a dent in that?
“Minorities are arrested at a five-times higher rate than white people in Philly. I walk down Broad Street smoking a joint and nobody says a word to me. Black kid walks next to me, and we’ll both get nailed. It’s just not right. … The racial bias in marijuana arrests is something that we want to point out. The Mayor talks about focusing on real issues like how black men can’t get jobs, but guess what, black men can’t get jobs because they have arrests.”
Read more at: Philly Mag
Two weeks ago Philadelphia’s Mayor Michael Nutter approved legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Today that law has officially gone into effect. The possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana will result in a civil fine of just $25. However, if you’re caught using marijuana, civil fines are bumped up to a $100 ticket and up to nine hours of community service.
“Under this policy, police officers will be able to remain focused on more serious offenses,” said City Councilman Jim Kenney who sponsored the bill. “Many young people will be spared the life-altering consequences of a criminal record, such as limited job prospects, inability to obtain student loans or even join the armed services.”
Philadelphia has now become the largest American city to decriminalize marijuana. Although marijuana remains illegal under state law, the amendment is a whole lot better than Philadelphia’s previous law, which punished any marijuana possession with at least a $200 fine, a drug abuse class and an permanent criminal record.
Decriminalization efforts across the country are gaining traction as it becomes increasingly evident that the drug war is failing our society. In particular, marijuana laws and subsequent enforcement of these laws are racially biased.
The ACLU says that 82% of marijuana possession arrests in Philadelphia are blacks while only about 44% percent of Philadelphians are black. Philadelphia’s efforts to eliminate racial disparities through the decriminalization of marijuana should serve as a template to other cities across America. Take a look at the graph below for some of the other American cities that are still incredibly biased in their enforcement of marijuana laws.
Photo Source: Politico.com