Pubdate: Sat, 06 Jun 2015
Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Copyright: 2015 The Columbus Dispatch
Author: Alan Johnson


Even before Ohio voters decide whether they want to legalize 
marijuana, backers of the issue are pushing ahead with the next step 
- - a way to expunge past criminal records of some marijuana users.

Ian James, spokesman for ResponsibleOhio, the group that wants to put 
a marijuana-legalization amendment to the state's constitution on the 
Nov. 3 general-election ballot, said signature collection will begin 
next month on a follow-up proposal called the Fresh Start Act.

Wording of the proposed initiated statute was not available, but 
James said it will be modeled on laws in other states that allow 
prior convictions for possession of small amounts of marijuana - 
typically less than 8 ounces - to be reviewed by a court and 
expunged. It would not apply to drug-trafficking convictions.

"This would be for someone who had a conviction for something that 
would no longer be illegal in Ohio," he said. It would provide a 
second chance and a fresh start, James added.

A conviction for possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana, 
about 31 ounces, is a minor misdemeanor in Ohio, typically punishable 
by a $150 fine and no jail time. Possession of 100 to 200 grams is a 
fourth-degree misdemeanor (maximum 30 days in jail, $250 fine), while 
possession of larger amounts is a felony with a possible prison sentence.

James' group is well on its way to having the 305,591 valid 
signatures of registered voters needed to qualify the marijuana 
legalization amendment for the ballot. He said he is "very 
comfortable" that enough signatures will be in hand by the July 1 deadline.

If approved by voters, ResponsibleOhio's proposal would allow wealthy 
investors and investment groups to grow marijuana at 10 sites around 
the state. Growers would sell wholesale to retailers, who would sell 
to those 21 or older. Sales would be taxed, and the proposal has a 
medical-marijuana component.

The Fresh Start Act would not be a constitutional amendment but an 
initiated statute. That provision of Ohio law allows backers with 
91,677 signatures to submit a proposal to the General Assembly. If 
the legislature does not approve the initiated statute in four months 
beginning in January 2016, ResponsibleOhio could collect another 
91,677 signatures to place the issue on the November 2016 ballot.

Marcie Seidel, executive director of the Drug Free Action Alliance 
Ohio, said she could not comment specifically on the new proposal 
without seeing it.

However, she called expungement a "smokescreen" because minor 
misdemeanors already qualify under Ohio law. "This is a way this 
cartel monopoly is trying to divert attention from what they're 
really doing," she said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom