Dayton city leaders voted Wednesday to decriminalize minor marijuana offenses and said they were open to legalizing pot if given the option.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said she would have gone further and put marijuana marijuana legalization on the ballot if the city had the power to make such a change because polls show it’s what the people want.
“Honestly, I think if we asked citizens of Dayton whether they want to legalize marijuana, they would say yes,” Whaley said. “We’re not able to do that because of state law, and so this is as far as a municipality could go.”
City commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance that amends city code to reduce and remove the penalties for minor pot offenses.
The vote keeps a promise commissioners made after Dayton residents last fall overwhelmingly voted in favor of marijuana decriminalization.
Even though the city has eliminated some penalties, questions remain about how police will enforce marijuana laws in the city because they can still bring charges under state code, which has not changed.
On Wednesday, the Dayton City Commission had the second reading of an ordinance that modifies multiple sections of city code related to drug offenses.
The city began crafting the legislation following the November advisory election when nearly three-fourths of voters supported decriminalizing minor pot offenses.
The ordinance, which takes effect in 30 days, gets rid of the fines and suspends court costs for minor misdemeanor and hashish offenses. Previously, violations carried a $150 fine.
The new ordinance says that minor misdemeanor marijuana offenses in the city are not considered a criminal record and do not need to be reported by people arrested or convicted of such charges when applying for jobs, licenses or other rights or privileges.
Possessing less than 100 grams of marijuana in the city is a minor misdemeanor, and so is possessing less than five grams of solid hashish and one gram of liquid hash.
Possessing paraphernalia used only for marijuana or hash is a minor misdemeanor, and the same goes for gifting 20 grams or less of marijuana.
Mayor Whaley said she hopes and expects the city will see a decrease in citations for marijuana offenses moving forward.
She said nearly everyone has tried marijuana sometime in their lifetime and the city does not want to put people into the criminal justice system for a drug not as harmful as some other legal substances, like alcohol. In the past, Whaley has said marijuana is not a gateway drug.
Polls suggest most American adults have tried pot and there’s growing support for making it legal.
An October Gallup poll found that two in three Americans now support legalizing recreational marijuana, and support is even higher among millennials.
About 10 U.S. states have legalized marijuana, including Michigan. Last year, Canada became the second country to legalize recreational marijuana.
Dayton Commissioner Chris Shaw said decriminalizing marijuana is about fairness and trying to prevent people from getting harmful criminal records and getting caught in the legal system.
Minority communities are more heavily policed and have more encounters with police, and marijuana arrests and convictions disproportionately impact people of color even though usage of pot is about the same among white people, Shaw said.
Shaw said he would have supported marijuana legalization if that’s what Dayton residents wanted. He said he expects Ohio to legalize recreational marijuana in the not-too-distant future.
A statewide measure to legalize the drug failed in 2015, but it was criticized for trying to establish a “monopoly” on the marijuana industry.
Shaw said the city will monitor and evaluate how the changes in law impact enforcement and citation numbers.
Dayton police can still cite citizens for pot offense under state code. A Dayton Daily News analysis last year found that most pot offenses in the city were brought by Dayton police under state statute .
Before the ordinance takes effect, police Chief Richard Biehl is expected to send an executive order to police officers outlining the changes in code and offering guidance on how to respond, officials said.