On November 7, Athens voters will decide whether to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana or not. The Athens Cannabis Ordinance (TACO) has been added to the ballot. This isn’t their first go at decriminalization, they’ve tried before and were not successful.
Ohio’s Constitution allows individual municipalities to change laws/penalties regarding misdemeanor offenses within city limits, according to The Post. Possession of 200-grams of marijuana or less in Ohio is a misdemeanor. The punishment for those charges include up to 30 days in jail and fines up to $250.
Caleb Brown of the TACO petition said, “Since there are some misdemeanor marijuana offenses in Ohio, the idea is to change the fines and penalties all the way to zero.”
The initiative had to collect 10-percent of the voter population that voted in the last gubernatorial election (which was in 2014 in Ohio). Athens needed 319 signatures.
Brown said, “Initiative petitions are a really cool thing that we as citizens in Ohio have available to us. It’s awesome because it’s a safety gap for democracy. …We can by petition enact ordinances and laws as citizens, which is pretty cool.”
TACO collected 625 signatures this time around – of which, 405 were deemed valid.
Brown said, “The petition this year is a lot cleaner and better. When we did it last year, there was a lot of pending court cases. It was kind of like a shoot for the moon kind of deal because we didn’t know what we could do. … This year we knew we could make it happen.”
Saraquoia, another TACO leader and is excited about the potential for decriminalization in Athens, said, “It’s not dangerous. We know that our jails are sometimes occupied by people with low-level cannabis offenses and that law enforcement hours are being wasted. …It’s a no brainer to reduce our cannabis (penalties) and denounce the stigma attached to cannabis.”
Students with an Athens address (proof of residency) will be allowed to vote in the election in November.
Daniel Ingram said, “It should be up to the people to decide whether they want to partake or not. It’s not like alcohol. In small doses, I don’t think it’s a big deal. I don’t think someone should get into that much trouble if they make a small life choice or mistake.”
Saraquoia said, that regardless of Athens’ size, she hopes these efforts will influence other cities in the surrounding area.
She said, “It’s baby steps. It’s the ways we can affect progress in our community. … We hope other cities snowball and eventually the state will try to push something through the legislature.”