Last month, more than two-thirds of Norwood voters approved an initiative to eliminate punishments for recreational marijuana use.
But city leaders are seeking to continue punishing possession of the drug anyway.
Norwood Police Chief Bill Kramer has directed his officers to cite those in possession under state law, which will divert those cases away from the city’s court to Hamilton County Municipal Court.
The ballot initiative eliminated the possibility of jail time or fines for possession of less than 200 grams of marijuana under the city’s ordinance, essentially stripping the Norwood Mayor’s Court the authority to levy punishments.
So Kramer made the decision to ask his officers to no longer cite offenders under the city ordinance.
“In my opinion, it doesn’t make sense to cite where there can be no fine,” Kramer told The Enquirer on Thursday night.
Kramer added he gave his officers the directive with the approval of Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams.
Williams did not return a request for comment Thursday night.
Amy Wolfinbarger, the founding president of Sensible Norwood, which spearheaded the initiative, could not be reached Thursday night.
But the Sensible Norwood Facebook page posted on the issue on Wednesday, saying the topic came up at a recent council meeting.
City leaders, the post read, “are using their positions to sidestep the law and blatantly disregard the will of the people.”
The post continued, saying city leaders “have personal opinions towards cannabis that differ from the 4,588 Norwood citizens who voted this ordinance into law.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions criticizes the legalization of marijuana in several states, including California.
But Tim Garry, Norwood’s assistant legal director, said it’s “within police discretion to charge under the city ordinance or the state code.”
He added that while it’s unlikely for a misdemeanor marijuana charge to lead to jail time, it is more likely to happen in municipal court versus Norwood’s court.
But he added most misdemeanor offenders won’t see jail time.
Kramer said he believes the referendum will actually make it more difficult for marijuana users who are cited, as they’ll now have to travel to downtown Cincinnati to appear in court rather than to Norwood Mayor’s Court.
Kramer added a fine “acts as a deterrent,” giving an example of someone using marijuana in a public park.
“For us to cite him in (Norwood Mayor’s Court) where he can’t receive a fine probably gives him reason to go right back down there and do it again,” Kramer said.
He added his department is not pursuing marijuana users any differently than before the vote. Most users are caught during traffic stops.
Garry estimated just one or two drug cases, including marijuana cases, were heard in Norwood court per week.
Under Ohio law, possession of less than 100 grams of cannabis is a minor misdemeanor punishable by a $150 fine.
Possession of 100-200 grams is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of 30 days imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250.
Anyone caught possessing 200 grams or more is subject to felony charges.
How harshly you’re treated for possessing cannabis varies widely by socio-economic status, race, city and state statutes.
More than 50 localities in a dozen states have ended prosecution or enacted municipal laws or resolutions decriminalizing minor violations for cannabis possession, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
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