Dayton’s pot decriminalization: Here’s how police were told to respond

Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl has instructed officers not to charge minor misdemeanor marijuana and hashish offenses under state code, except if they suspect the possession is related to drug trafficking or could result in “companion charges” for more serious offenses.

Biehl also told officers if they choose to use their discretion and warn people caught with pot instead of issuing a citation, they still need to confiscate the contraband and place it in the property room for destruction, according to an executive order from Biehl obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

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Dayton residents in November overwhelmingly voted in favor of decriminalizing minor pot offenses during an advisory election. The Dayton City Commission last month approved an ordinance that amends the city’s marijuana laws to reduce penalties and eliminate some fines.

The legislation took effect on Thursday. Last week, Biehl issued a general order outlining the legal changes and advising officers how to respond to them.

Biehl’s Feb. 8 executive order lays out the changes in Dayton municipal code, which includes reclassifying certain pot-related offenses as minor misdemeanors and eliminating the fines for minor misdemeanor marijuana and hashish convictions.

Biehl told police that officers’ good judgment and use of discretion in the enforcement of minor infractions is key to changing or preventing illicit behaviors.

MORE: Dayton would put recreational marijuana on ballot if it had the power, Mayor Whaley says

He wrote, “Nothing in the new (Dayton code) or in this executive order changes the officer’s options as it relates to enforcement action.”

But he told officers that they still needed to confiscate marijuana if they used their discretion and gave people caught with it a warning instead of citation.

He also said that marijuana can be an important part of officers’ investigations that may lead to the discovery of more serious offenses. He said suspects should be charged under state statute instead of city code when more serious charges are anticipated and pursued.

Though Dayton has amended the city’s marijuana laws, Ohio’s laws remain unchanged. Authorities still have the option of charging violations under state law.

But the executive order says officers “will use” city code for minor misdemeanor marijuana and hashish offenses. Biehl reminded officers that suspects in minor pot offense cases will not face fines in Dayton Municipal Court.

Biehl also told officers that when they file minor misdemeanor charges under state law, they should record “aggravating circumstances” that led to the charges.

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