Caleb Brown, far left, speaks on The Athens Cannabis Ordinance, during a public forum Tuesday night. On the far right is Athens City Prosecutor Tracy Meek, who spoke against the ordinance. Susan Tebben / WOUB News

Cannabis Ordinance Gets Public Scrutiny

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In front of a small group of Athens residents at the Athens Community Center on Tuesday, The Athens Cannabis Ordinance campaign treasurer Caleb Brown and Athens City Prosecutor Tracy Meek agreed that this was not a typical “pro-con” debate.

“I’m not here to say ‘vote no.’ I’m here to clear up some confusion (the prosecutor’s office) sees on the issue,” Meek said.

On one side of The Athens Cannabis Ordinance (TACO) discussion, it could bring progress to the effort to legalize the drug. On the other side of the issue, the ordinance could cause confusion for law enforcement and those caught with cannabis.

The ordinance, which is also called Issue 6 on local ballots, would remove penalties for misdemeanor marijuana offenses for possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana, possession of up to 10 grams of hash, cultivation of up to 200 grams of marijuana and possession and sale of paraphernalia, according to TACO campaign information.

Brown used the example of the “Sensible Marijuana Ordinance” in the city of Toledo, where penalties were decreased for marijuana-related violations to the minimum allowed. That ordinance was approved by 70 percent of voters (almost 12,000 people) in September 2015. Brown said that ordinance has not caused any confusion for city residents or law enforcement.

The Toledo ordinance was later changed, and the crimes considered felonies under state law were taken out of the ordinance. A Lucas County Court Judge those provisions were in conflict with state laws and could not be enforced by the city, according to reporting by The Toledo Blade.

For Meek and city prosecutors, the issues the Toledo ordinance had are at the top of their list of concerns, and they worry voters will be confused about the true nature of the ordinance.

“Our fear is that (college students) will hear ‘legalize marijuana,” Meek said. “This ordinance doesn’t do that.”

Meek also emphasized the difference between the jurisdictions of the Ohio University Police Department and the Athens Police Department, which could cause a problem for those thinking they’ll be free from penalties.

While APD enforces city and state mandates and codes, OUPD enforces state codes predominantly, and don’t use city ordinances when charging individuals.

“So, even if the ordinance passed, the city fines would be waived, but the state-mandated fines can’t be waived,” Meek said, adding that it would also still be a drug charge on a criminal record, possibly compromising scholarships or job prospects.

But misdemeanor provisions are still in place in Toledo, and Brown said the Athens ordinance is about more than just individual criminal records.

“This ordinance is really about being able to make a statement in a legal way about ending cannabis prohibition,” Brown said.