COLUMBUS, Ohio (Nov. 11, 2022) – On Tuesday, voters in five Ohio localities approved measures to decriminalize marijuana possession despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Marijuana decriminalization measures passed in the Villages of Corning,, Laurelville, Rushville and Sawnee and the city of Kent. Generally, the ordinances decriminalize the possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana. Instead of making arrests or issuing citations, police are directed to confiscate the cannabis.
“The results of yesterday’s general election show beyond a reasonable doubt that the people of Ohio are ready for a change in cannabis laws, even at the local level,” NORML spokesperson Don Keeney told Marijuana Moment. “From the city of Kent to the small villages of Southeast Ohio, they want this! These are sold red areas with elected officials that say their people don’t support this. Yesterday’s vote shows something different.”
How decriminalization will play out in practice remains to be seen. Kent Police Department Lt. Michael Lewis said the department would ignore the ordinance.
“Even if there is an ordinance [in Kent] that says marijuana possession is legal, it is still illegal by the state of Ohio. Chief [Nicholas] Shearer has stated before that we are still going to enforce the laws of the state of Ohio to include possession of marijuana, and our officers would simply be charging somebody under the state code for illegal possession of marijuana.”
But Sensible Kent campaign manager Michael Fricke told KentWired that the police department can’t just ignore a binding city ordinance.
“There is no conflict between decriminalization and state law, so they cannot enforce state law,” Fricke said.
Legally, it seems unlikely that city officials can ignore a legally binding ordinance.
Decriminalization of marijuana in these Ohio towns continues 50-year efforts by the states to nullify the feds, cities to nullify the states – and individuals to nullify them all.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains a 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 decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana effectively removes a small layer of laws. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most 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
Colorado, Washington state, 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. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. In 2021, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action, and Rhode Island legalized cannabis for adult use in 2022. With Missouri and Maryland legalizing marijuana on Tuesday, there are now 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and at least 21 legalizing for adult recreational use.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “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.”
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