MCARTHUR — McArthur residents on Nov. 2 will decide whether or not to depenalize marijuana within the village after a petition circulated by an advocacy organization received enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot.
If passed, the “Sensible Marihuana Ordinance,” would reduce the fine for the possession of less than 200 grams of marijuana in McArthur from $150 to $0, as well as reduce the fine for the possession of marijuana paraphernalia to $0, though the penalties for both would remain a minor misdemeanor drug abuse offense.
The ordinance’s inclusion on the November ballot is due to the efforts of The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), a group that advocates for the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana. A regional chapter earlier this year collected over 50 signatures from McArthur residents, which was enough to put the ordinance up for a vote in November.
Don Keeney, executive director of NORML Appalachia of Ohio, a regional chapter of NORML, said the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) gives municipalities such as McArthur the ability to adjust penalties defined by the ORC up and down in a form of home rule.
However, marijuana would still remain illegal within Ohio, unless legalized statewide, Keeney said, meaning those caught in possession of marijuana could still be charged.
“But, what we’re seeing, it never goes that far,” Keeney added. “I imagine they could still slap you with a charge on your record, but it’ll say no fine no time, but none of it has made it that far. They don’t even bother with it.”
Vinton County Prosecutor Jim Payne said that if the ordinance passes, it will not make much of a difference for his office, which he said generally does not pursue recreational marijuana use “too hard,” because the county’s limited jail space is reserved for more serious felonies and misdemeanors.
“The only time we have charged is when they either are trafficking in marijuana or if they have some other felony or misdemeanor and they happen to have marijuana,” he said. “I don’t think it’s really gonna affect us that much.”
In a press release, the McArthur Police Department said it is against the passage of the ordinance, and noted that marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which are substances that are illegal for uses other than research. The release notes, however, that medical marijuana products are available in Ohio.
“Society views may think this is no big deal because it’s just marijuana,” the release said. “However, this is only the beginning of a downhill tumble with regards to illegal drug use. If the penalties continue to be decreased over time, then what chance does society have to combat the ever-growing drug problem facing our village and country?”
Additionally, the Vinton County Sheriff’s department would refer to ORC if a deputy charges someone with marijuana possession, as the department does not enforce municipal ordinances, Sheriff Ryan Cain said.
Keeney thinks that there’s a good shot the ordinance will pass in McArthur, citing his organization’s previous successes in other municipalities in Southeast Ohio, including Nelsonville, Glouster and Jacksonville in Athens County, which are all located within Republican controlled Ohio House of Representatives districts.
According to a press release, 22 other municipalities in Ohio have passed NORML’s Sensible Marihuana Ordinance.
“A lot of these are red areas, (with) red representatives — Republicans,” Keeney said. “We found that they say there’s no support in these areas.”
“This proves otherwise,” Keeney continued, referring to NORML’s successes in other municipalities located in Republican controlled Ohio House districts.