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Columbus, Ohio will not prosecute misdemeanor marijuana possession cases

[MGN Online]

Days after the Columbus Police chief said he will enforce the city’s new reduced-penalty marijuana law, City Attorney Zach Klein announced that he will no longer prosecute any misdemeanor pot possession cases — even those filed under the stricter state law.

Now that the state legislature just made hemp and its extract, CBD, legal in a bill signed last week by Gov. Mike DeWine, “the prosecution of marijuana possession charges would require drug testing that distinguishes hemp from marijuana,” Klein said in a written statement Wednesday announcing the new policy.

“Without this drug testing capability, the City Attorney’s Office is not able to prove misdemeanor marijuana possession beyond a reasonable doubt,” because “our current drug testing technology is not able to differentiate, so we will not have the evidence required to prosecute these cases.”

All current and pending misdemeanor marijuana-possession charges, therefore, are being dismissed, he said.

“Considering the substantial cost of new equipment and testing versus the possible benefit of prosecuting these often-dismissed cases, in addition to the recent ordinance passed by Columbus City Council, we plan on engaging in further discussions on whether to make this new policy permanent.”The new policy will go as follows:• The City Attorney’s Office will be dismissing all marijuana possession charges, but not “other accompanying charges” unless there is a separate and distinct reason to do so.

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• Possession of marijuana is still illegal in Columbus and Ohio. Therefore, it can still be a legal, constitutional reason for police to stop and/or search someone based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe they of possess marijuana.

• Charges of operating a vehicle while impaired involving marijuana intoxication will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The city attorney’s office will not dismiss on the basis of this policy.This policy is effective immediately, Klein said in the statement.

Citing a disparity in arrests under the current state marijuana statute in which young black men are arrested at disproportionate rates, the Columbus City Council voted unanimously July 22 to reduce the fine for being caught in the city with seven ounces of less of pot to less than a parking-meter fine.

That ordinance takes effect in two weeks.

The Dispatch reported Monday that Columbus interim Police Chief Thomas Quinlan said he will issue a directive ordering his department to use only the new city law in all cases involving simple possession of the drug, bypassing the tougher state law, that permits jail time for more than 3.5 ounces.

But in cases where suspects face more serious, additional charges on top of possessing pot, officers will be instructed to use the tougher state penalties, Quinlan said. Serious violations could include breaking the concealed-carry gun law or being wanted on a warrant, Quinlan said.

Under the new city law, those caught with up to 3.5 ounces would pay a $10 fine, and those caught with between 3.5 and 7 ounces would pay a $25 fine with no possible jail time. Under state law, the penalties are $150 and $250, plus up to 30 days in jail, respectively.

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No city fines would apply to people approved for medical marijuana use, and convictions under the new city code would “not constitute a criminal record and need not be reported by the person” in employment or license applications, or when appearing as a witness.

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© 2019 The Columbus Dispatch