On Sept. 15, 2015, Toledo, Ohio, became one of the few major cities in the United States to decriminalize marijuana. The voter initiative, also known as the Sensible Marihuana Act, passed with more than 70 percent of the vote.
Even though voters overwhelmingly supported the initiative, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has claimed that the ordinance violates state law and has filed a lawsuit to block its implementation. In the suit, DeWine has alleged that the recently passed “Sensible Marihuana Act” would do the following:
- Establish a gag rule that would prevent Toledo law enforcement from reporting felony drug trafficking crimes,
- Conflict with Ohio’s felony drug possession and drug trafficking laws, and
- Allow for possession of Schedule III, IV, and V drugs, potentially in massive quantities.
The suit goes on to say that the city of Toledo “is not empowered to establish or amend Ohio felony law. And municipal authorities are not authorized to prosecute felony offenses under state law.” In other words, the lawsuit claims that Toledo has overstepped its authority by altering the penalties for felony crimes.
“This ordinance encourages drug cartels to set up marijuana distribution operations in Toledo with less fear of prison or penalties,” DeWine said in a press release. “Absent legal action, it is not hard to imagine international drug rings making Toledo their regional base of operations.”
Under the Ohio constitution, cities and villages are entitled to “home rule,” meaning they have the right to alter criminal penalties for an offense so long as it remains a crime.
Current Ohio law makes marijuana possession under 100 grams a misdemeanor punishable by a $150 and a court appearance, but it is not recorded on an individual’s criminal record.
With the Sensible Marihuana Act, marijuana possession under 200 grams carries no penalty. Possession of marijuana in amounts greater than 200 grams is considered a fifth degree felony, punishable by up to 12 months in jail.
However, according to the Toledo Blade, law enforcement in Toledo usually charges criminals under the Ohio Revised Code. This is likely for cost-saving purposes, but Toledo law enforcement could potentially still arrest felony drug traffickers.
Nevertheless, one could see where there might be an issue between Toledo’s newly enacted ordinance and current state law.
It should be noted that the stated purpose of DeWine’s lawsuit is not to completely overturn marijuana decriminalization in Toledo, but rather to invalidate the portions that conflict with state law. DeWine is also seeking an injunction against the measure while courts decide the outcome of the lawsuit.