Ohio Generates Enough Signatures for Cannabis Decriminalization

Ohio cannabis supporters have successfully demonstrated that they turned in a sufficient amount of valid names to put a local cannabis decriminalization initiative before Kent, Ohio voters after having narrowly missed the 2021 ballot thanks to an affirmation error on the part of the county officials.

The Portage County Board of Elections originally told the Sensible Cannabis operations that they were four signatures deficient of tempering the measure to be decided on earlier this month. However, cannabis activists were suspicious and did their own research, ultimately discovering that officials incorrectly marked various amounts of signatures as invalid. Sounds fishy, but Sensible Cannabis operations have prevailed.

Mark Brown, a politics professor at Capital University, had the plan to reach out to people whose signatures were marked as invalid and have them fill out affidavits declaring that they had, in fact, authorized their name on a petition in support of ordering cannabis reform on the local Ohio ballot.

After an independent study, the board revealed last month that the campaign had garnered 815 valid signatures, about ten more than what’s needed to secure ballot placement, as The Portager first published.

The plan at this time is for the elections board to inform the Kent City Council of its discovery and see how the local legislators want to move forward. They could put the cannabis reform bill before voters at a future election, grant an ordinance legislatively that mirrors the Sensible Cannabis initiative, or simply take no action and likely encounter a legal obstacle.

If Ohio officials do opt to put the cannabis reform initiative on the ballot, it’s not obvious when voters will get the chance to decide on the decriminalization of cannabis. Some cannabis advocates assume it could show up on a May initial ballot. Despite this, others think it might need to wait until November’s general election or for a different special election to be held early next year.

Kent was one of various Ohio cities cannabis activists locked in on for last month’s election. Citizens in seven cities passed the bill, dramatically decriminalizing private cannabis possession.

Twenty-nine authorities across the state of Ohio have now already ratified local statutes effectively decriminalizing cannabis possession, some of which have been established by voter actions while city councils implemented others.

In most of the Ohio municipalities where cannabis was on the ballot back in November, the text of the proposal stated, ‘shall [ Ohio jurisdiction] utilize the Sensible [Cannabis] Ordinance, which reduces the punishment for misdemeanor cannabis crimes to the lowest penalty outlined by Ohio Law?’

Other changes were long and drawn out changes to local statutes, stipulating that ‘if the amount of the cannabis in question is less than two hundred grams, possession of cannabis is a minor misdemeanor drug offense’ and that people convicted of violating the section shall be fined no money whatsoever.

If Kent does end up enacting cannabis decriminalization—either at the ballot or in legislator fashion—it appears it will face some criticism from Ohio law enforcement. 

Police Chief Nicholas Shearer pointed out that the problem is with the amount of cannabis that would be decriminalized. Shearer stated people found to be holding more than two ounces (57 grams) would likely encounter drug distribution charges.

‘Regardless of what Ohio decriminalization efforts take effect here locally in Kent, possession of cannabis is still a breach of Ohio law, and our officers will still be required to enforce that state law,” he told an Ohio newspaper.

Cannabis advocates are actively pursuing cannabis reform at the state level as well, with one scheme stating they will soon have enough names to force the legislature to consider legalizing cannabis in the state.

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