Pubdate: Thu, 30 Mar 2006
Source: Cincinnati Post (OH)
Copyright: 2006 The Cincinnati Post
Author: Joe Wessels Post contributor
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


In a move that supporters claimed would give police more
crime-fighting powers, City Council passed an ordinance Wednesday to
make possession of small amounts of marijuana punishable by fines and
jail time.

For first-time offenders, the measure makes the possession of less
than 200 grams a fourth-degree misdemeanor, with maximum penalties of
30 days in jail and a $250 fine. Subsequent offenses would be a
first-degree misdemeanor, with maximum penalties of six months in jail
and a $1,000 fine.

Until now, those caught with less than 100 grams of the drug in the
city were only ticketed and not subject to arrest.

Elevating the offense to a misdemeanor enables police to arrest and
then subsequently search suspects, said Council Member Cecil Thomas,
chairman of the Law & Public Safety Committee and sponsor of the ordinance.

Police Chief Thomas H. Streicher Jr. said the expanded search powers
the ordinance affords would likely lead to seizure of other
contraband, such as guns. The new law would also require defendants to
go to a judge who could sentence them to drug rehab programs.

Councilman David Crowley, who with Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell opposed the
ordinance, called it "regressive."

Mayor Mark Mallory said he would allow the measure to become law
without his signature, as a show of his disapproval. But to veto it
would be an "an exercise of futility," he said, since supporters had
sufficient votes for a veto override.

Thomas said drug dealers who frequent the city know exactly how much
they can carry under Ohio law - up to 100 grams, about the size of a
cigarette - and only be subject to a "pay out" ticket.

Streicher said marijuana possession laws in Kentucky and Indiana are
much stiffer. With Cincinnati's proximity to those states and easy
access, drug dealers find the city a haven to ply their trade, he
said. "If I was going to buy a lawn mower and in two places it costs
$400 and in one it cost $250, guess where you are going to go."

But Crowley said studies show that 90 percent of those cited for
marijuana possession were from the city and Thomas' ordinance was
unneeded. Last year, Cincinnati police handed out 4,100 marijuana
citations, according to Councilwoman Leslie Ghiz.

Tarbell said he'd heard from no one expressing support for the law,
but several people had contacted his office opposed to it. No one
spoke in favor of the legislation at Wednesday's meeting, but several
spoke against it.

Thomas said neighborhood groups were willing to come and speak for the
ordinance, but he told them he had the votes to get it passed.

Though the ordinance, as well as Ohio law, does not distinguish
between those who use marijuana for medical or recreational reasons,
Thomas does not expect police to target college students or those who
use it to self-medicate.

"That's not who they'll be going after," he said. "I'm not concerned
about that because crime is occurring in our troubled

In fact, Thomas said he is not totally opposed to legalizing the drug,
though Council does not have the authority to do that. His main
concern with that would be the negative impact on public health.
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