Law is under fire

Published 9:19 am Monday, January 18, 2016

TOLEDO (AP) — Part of a recently adopted ordinance in northwest Ohio that abolished jail terms and fines for possessing small amounts of marijuana is already in effect despite a pending legal challenge.

Toledo residents in September approved an initiative that wrote a new ordinance into the city’s municipal code aimed at decriminalizing marijuana and hashish possession, The Blade reported.

Both drugs are illegal under the Sensible Marijuana Ordinance, but Toledo’s new ordinance reduces all penalties, regardless of quantity.

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Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Sheriff John Tharp and Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates filed suit to block sections of the law that attempted to rewrite state felony law regarding amounts of marijuana greater than 200 grams.

A review of Toledo Municipal Court cases revealed that a woman convicted of marijuana possession since the ordinance was approved was sentenced to no fines and no jail time.

Sean Nestor, who managed the campaign for the marijuana ordinance, said the pattern of arrests and convictions since the ordinance sounds consistent with the law.

“There’s still somewhat of a punitive aspect to having a criminal record,” Nestor said.

The attorney general’s complaint argues that the city has no power to amend or create felonies. It seeks an injunction and contends that the courts have clearly ruled criminal statutes with no penalties invalid.

The lawsuit doesn’t contest parts of the ordinance that abolish fines and jail terms for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

Lawyers for both sides have debated whether Toledo voters had the power to create a new fifth-degree felony for marijuana and hashish possession. The city’s official position is that the law is constitutional.

DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said the case has been briefed and both sides are awaiting further instruction or a ruling.