COLUMBUS, Ohio (Nov. 11, 2020) – Last Tuesday, four Ohio towns voted to decriminalize marijuana despite federal prohibition.
Adena, Glouster, Jacksonville, and Trimble, Ohio, all passed local measures to decriminalize cannabis. These four towns join 18 other Ohio cities that have enacted measures to lower penalties for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Under the new law, possession of 200 grams or less will entail no jail time and but will be subject to the lowest fine allowed by state law.
NORML Appalachia and the Sensible Movement Coalition joined forces to get the measures on the ballot and push them to victory. They had hoped to put decrim measures on the ballot in 14 cities, but faced significant challenges in gathering petition signatures due to coronavirus social distancing requirements.
Marijuana possession for non-medical use remains a criminal offense under Ohio state law, but the new ordinances will disincentivize enforcement efforts in these four towns and likely change policing priorities. minimizing marijuana arrests and prosecutions.
Marijuana was a big winner in elections across the country. Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota all legalized recreational marijuana and Mississippi voters approved a medical marijuana program. Thirty-six states have now legalized marijuana in some form – all despite ongoing federal prohibition.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains the complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
The legalization and decriminalization of marijuana at the state and local level remove a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By legalizing cannabis, these states can essentially sweep away at least some of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
These four Ohio cities join a growing number of states and localities increasingly ignoring federal prohibition and nullifying it in practice.
Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019.
With 36 states allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
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