The Ohio Senate approved a large-scale criminal justice reform bill on November 30 that contains provisions to protect people from having criminal records for arrests or convictions over simple possession of marijuana “paraphernalia.” It also includes measures clearing a path for people to have convictions for cannabis possession and other charges sealed and expunged.
Under the nearly 1,000-page measure from Sen. Nathan Manning (R), misdemeanor cannabis paraphernalia possession cases would “not constitute a criminal record,” nor would they need to be disclosed “in response to any inquiries about the person’s criminal record.”
The bill, which cleared the chamber in a 27-2 vote, covers a wide range of issues, including sentencing reform for people in prison and criminal records expungements.
The House of Representatives is also working on its own separate criminal justice reform bill. While the end of the session is near, lawmakers and advocates are hopeful that the chambers can come together and get legislation to the governor’s desk in time.
The Senate-passed bill would maintain that cannabis possession is considered a minor misdemeanor—but it would provide a pathway for sealing the record from public view after six months and expunging the conviction altogether after three years, according to the sponsor.
There would be a fee of generally not more than $50 to obtain the record relief, but it could be waived if the applicant can show they are indigent.
“We have done a lot of work on this bill. And, really, the goal of this—we talk about criminal justice reform, we talk about tough-on-crime, soft-on-crime—really what we want to do is improve our criminal justice system and lower crime in our society and make our society a safer place,” Manning said. “And to do that, we did a lot of work here.”
He added that “a lot of this bill is long-term, making sure that people that have entered our judicial system exit the judicial system as better people, and to lower recidivism rates, to improve their quality of life and to make sure that we have less victims in the future.”
After an activist-led ballot campaign and legislative attempts to legalize marijuana stalled out this year, the Senate vote represents a welcome development.
Of course, advocates would like to see Ohio take much bolder steps toward ending cannabis criminalization. But after an activist-led ballot campaign and legislative attempts to legalize marijuana stalled out this year, the Senate vote represents a welcome development.
The campaign Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) sought to put legalization on the ballot this year, but it faced complications that ultimately pushed the reform proposal back to 2023 at earliest.
In the legislature, a pair of Ohio Democratic lawmakers separately filed a bill to legalize marijuana in April that directly mirrors the proposed initiative that activists had pursued, but it did not advance in time.
A GOP legislator who sponsored a different bill to tax and regulate cannabis has tempered expectations this year about the chances for legislative reform, signaling that the issue will likely have to be decided by voters.
But Ohioans have made clear that they’re ready for a policy change during elections in multiple recent cycles, including this latest one where voters in five more cities approved local marijuana decriminalization ballot initiatives.
A recent poll found that a majority of Ohio voters would support marijuana legalization at the ballot statewide.
In September, Ohio medical marijuana sales officially surpassed the $1 billion mark since dispensaries started serving patients in April 2019, state data show.
Photograph via Pxhere