Tamper your High Expectations: Marijuana Possession vs State Law

After seeing Ohioans wearing shirts or waving flags with rainbow marijuana leaves across the state throughout Pride season, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that Ohio may have joined the growing number of states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. You may want to tamper any high expectations. Although medicinal marijuana is now legal for certain medical conditions, the possession of marijuana is still prohibited under state law.  

This particularly impacts the LGBTQ community who are statistically much more likely to have used marijuana (and for that matter, or other substances) within the past year than their straight counterparts for many reasons. The nation’s drug laws have sent many LGBTQ people to prison or jail for their marijuana use, punishing them for an act that is now legal in at least 12 states. These convictions can restrict access to housing, employment, education, public assistance, and voting rights long after sentences have been served.  

Marijuana Illegal In Columbus Technically, But Likelihood of New Convictions Low

Despite the lack of statewide changes, the Columbus City Council and the Columbus City Attorney separately enacted reforms that, taken together, significantly change how the capital city’s government responds to the possession of recreational marijuana. In July, Columbus City Council decreased the penalties for the still-criminal act of possession of marijuana after extensively investigating its effects on the overall criminal justice system, especially on people of color and younger residents. Any person caught possessing less than 100 grams of marijuana or paraphernalia cannot be fined more than $10.00; anyone caught between 100 and 200 grams cannot be charged more than $25.00. Shortly after the new ordinance went into effect, the Columbus City Attorney announced his office would dismiss all marijuana possession charges and will not prosecute misdemeanor marijuana possession cases due to the lack of technology to distinguish between the now legalized hemp and marijuana.

What do these changes mean if you get caught possessing marijuana in Columbus?  Possession of marijuana is still illegal in Columbus. Therefore, law enforcement can still legally and constitutionally stop or search you if you are in possession of marijuana.  Also, OVI’s based on marijuana intoxication will be examined on a case-by-case basis. However, the likelihood of people in Columbus obtaining new marijuana possession convictions on their criminal records has exponentially decreased.  

Columbus’s significant advancements in criminal justice reform went into effect just prior to National Expungement Week. National Expungement Week is a week of events across the country that offers expungement and other forms of legal relief to the millions of people with convictions on their records. In Ohio, generally only juvenile offenders and survivors of human trafficking can “expunge” their records. Thanks to changes to the law enacted last year, more Ohioans are eligible to have their criminal records sealed so that potential employers, landlords, and schools can no longer deny people opportunities based upon an old conviction. 

Let Us Help With Old Convictions

The Equality Ohio Legal Clinic is always able to assist LGBTQ Ohioans in reviewing their eligibility to have an old conviction or dismissal sealed. Additionally, the Equality Ohio Legal Clinic is collaborating with several partners to host a record sealing clinic on Saturday, September 28, from 10 am to 2 pm at the Columbus Urban League which is located at 788 Mount Vernon Avenue in Columbus. Can’t make it to Columbus? Fill out an intake or give us a call at 855-LGBT-LAW.

Remember––Equality Ohio’s legal clinic is free for people within 300% of the federal poverty line, and we can probably help you no matter where you live in the state.