Pubdate: Wed, 23 Sep 2015
Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Copyright: 2015 The Columbus Dispatch
Author: Alan Johnson


Most people believe in second chances, but not everyone thinks 
marijuana should be legal.

That was the message underlying Tuesday's announcement that marijuana 
legalization backers were filing 236,759 signatures for a "Fresh 
Start Act." It would give people with misdemeanor pot convictions a 
chance to have them erased.

The Fresh Start Act would only work next year if Ohioans approve 
State Issue 3 this Nov. 3. The constitutional amendment would 
legalize recreational use for those 21 or older and for medicinal purposes.

If legalization is approved, people with misdemeanor marijuana 
possession convictions on their record could ask a court to wipe them 
off the books because they would no longer be illegal in Ohio.

Several black clergy members held a news conference on Tuesday at the 
Sheraton Hotel Downtown, where they unanimously announced support for 
Fresh Start.

"We believe in a fresh start," said Rev. Johannes Christian of 
Adoration of Peace Baptist Church of Columbus. "We serve a God of 
second chances."

Rev. Jeffrey Kee of New Faith Baptist Church said drug laws, 
including marijuana laws, disproportionately affect black men and 
women. Kee said he advocates "rehabilitation rather than the 
plantation of incarceration."

But when questioned, several clergy members acknowledged they don't 
support marijuana legalization.

"I'm not in favor of Issue 3," said Rev. James Kelly of Burnside 
Baptist Church in Columbus. "I don't believe it would be beneficial 
for our community. But I do want to give people a new start."

Clergy members "may not be in favor of the marijuana act," added Rev. 
Keshena Ashe, a pastor at Mount Harmon Missionary Baptist Church who 
was incarcerated for 16 years. "But if it does pass, we hope it 
(Fresh Start) gives a second chance."

Gary Daniels of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio had no 
qualms about supporting both Fresh Start and Issue 3. He said the 
ability to expunge some convictions could undo problems connected 
with minor marijuana convictions, such as driver's license 
suspension, inability to get financial aid for college and public 
housing, and difficulty obtaining some licenses.

ResponsibleOhio needs 91,677 valid signatures of registered Ohio 
voters to send Fresh Start to the General Assembly. If lawmakers 
don't approve the measure in the first four months next year, backers 
could gather another 91,677 signatures to put it to a public vote in 
the November 2016 election.

The names collected were to be submitted to Ohio Secretary of State 
Jon Husted, the state's chief elections official.

ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James said the act will move 
forward regardless of what happens with legalization.

Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies, the group opposing pot 
legalization, said the Fresh Start Act is "a distortion out of 
desperation" because it is being touted by ResponsibleOhio even 
though it isn't on the ballot this fall.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom