YELLOW SPRINGS — In a unanimous vote during a recent council meeting, Yellow Springs voted to decriminalize marijuana. By reducing the penalties for marijuana possession, leaders hope the number of people with criminal records for minor weed-related offenses will be lower.
By amending Chapter 624 of the village’s Code of Ordinances, possession or cultivation of less than 100 grams of marijuana has gone from a minor misdemeanor to a civil infraction with a fine of up to $25. Possession or cultivation of less than 200 grams has gone from a fourth-degree misdemeanor to a civil infraction with a fine of up to $50.
Unlike a misdemeanor, a civil infraction is a non-criminal offense, and does not constitute a possible jail sentence. Council President Brian Housh said this is something the council has been looking at for several years.
“It’s come up in the context of the kinds of crimes that we feel disproportionately affect minorities,” Housh said. “Traditionally, it has a negative impact on people’s lives for a minor offense.”
This ordinance codifies what has been policy in the Yellow Springs Police Department and Mayor’s Court for some time.
“Our officers minimize any arrests related to marijuana possession,” Housh said. “In the past five years, statistics highlight that there have been almost no citations for marijuana-related offenses.”
There are a few things this ordinance will not change. Yellow Springs police officers can still confiscate and destroy marijuana and related paraphernalia without a forfeiture hearing, particularly if the offender is found smoking in public.
“This doesn’t change our public safety attitudes,” Housh added. “We are going to be serious about any kind of driving while impaired.”
The Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Greene County Sheriff’s Office may choose to cite someone under the Ohio Revised Code (ORC), rather than the Yellow Springs code if they find an individual in possession of marijuana.
Possession of more than 200 grams of marijuana is still a felony under the ORC, except in the context of medical usage. Yellow Springs lacks the ability to reduce such a penalty, though the ordinance states that the village will “support grassroots decriminalization efforts of felony marijuana offenses at the state level.”
The village’s efforts are part of a larger attempt to decriminalize minor offenses that leave people with a criminal record, which Housh said disproportionately affects people of color and those of a disadvantaged economic background. The council is currently looking to decriminalize rolling stops and busted taillights.
“Our concern is that so many things that are criminalized are ruining people’s lives, and we want to avoid those aspects of that,” Housh said. “We recognize that there are a lot of things where a criminal approach makes sense. This is not one of those things.”
Reach London Bishop at (937) 502-4532
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