Legalizing Marijuana in Ohio Will End 10,000 Arrests & Citations Per Year


Ohio has an initiative to legalize marijuana on the ballot for 2015. Some supporters of legalizating marijuana in Ohio are upset that the initiative only allows for ten commercial marijuana grow sites at first, and those ten sites have already been allotted to the funders of the initiative campaign. Those opponents of 2015 legalization often point to the promise of a better legalization plan sure to be on the ballot in 2016 or some later year.

Despite the fact that the other groups promising to legalize in 2016 and beyond are flat broke and show no realistic probability they can organize a successful ballot campaign next year, it is reasonable to assume that eventually, every state in the Union will have a shot at some sort of marijuana legalization in our lifetime.

Ohio is the state with the greatest decriminalized marijuana amount; 100 grams of marijuana or less (about 3.5 ounces) is considered a minor misdemeanor with no arrest and a $150 fine. That conviction can also carry a driver’s license suspension from six months to five years, even if the possession of marijuana occurred nowhere near a vehicle.

So why not wait another year, or two, or five, or longer to get a more wide-open legalization that allows any adult to participate in the field of commercial marijuana cultivation?

I can give you about ten thousand reasons why.

According to the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services Data Dashboard, in 2012 (the most recent data available), there were 11,988 arrests for adult possession of marijuana and 826 arrests for adult manufacture of marijuana that year. It’s reasonable to assume these figures will be roughly the same for successive years, as possession arrests have fluctuated between 11,000 and 13,000 since 2004 and manufacture arrests were as high as 1,300 before dropping to 2012’s recent low.

In Washington following legalization, all marijuana law violations charged in court dropped by 63 percent. In Colorado, the decline was 80 percent. (I believe the difference in declines is due to Washington not having legalized home grow like Colorado has.) That’s not just the less-than-one-ounce possession cases that got legalized. That’s all marijuana law violations, including possession, growing, trafficking, and selling. That’s because once legal, marijuana’s smell and presence is no longer an automatic probable cause for a police officer to investigate.

In Colorado and Washington (and now, Oregon and Alaska), K-9 officers (drug dogs) can no longer be used to detect marijuana, since it is legal to carry an ounce. Decriminalization, like Ohio has, does not make it legal to carry marijuana, therefore any scent of it detected by man or dog is reason for the cop to keep investigating.

In Ohio, the guy who just came from a party and smells like weed, but possesses none, is going to be harassed by a cop looking to write a ticket or make an arrest. The guy who is in possession of a quarter pound he just bought from his dealer is going to end up with a felony because he smells like weed. But in the four legalized marijuana states, the smell of pot on the driver’s clothes, an eighth ounce of weed in the driver’s pocket, or twelve pounds in the trunk of the car is just the smell of legal pot. It doesn’t smell differently by weight.

If Ohio legalizes in 2015, they will have a situation more akin to Colorado’s than Washington’s legalization. Home grow will be legal, albeit with a state license that costs $50. If Ohio follows suit like Colorado and experiences 80 percent fewer marijuana cases, that’s over ten thousand cases per year where someone will no longer suffer as little as a ticket or as much as a felony prison sentence because he or she smelled like marijuana.

Now, maybe you don’t care about 10,000 other Ohioans. Maybe you’re protected by your Caucasian complexion that means you’re 1/4th as likely to be harassed by police over weed smell than an African-American (or 1/13th as likely in Allen, Ohio). Maybe you’re over the age of 30 and are also 1/4th as likely to be busted for weed smell.

Regardless, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. For Ohio – a state without medical marijuana – to jump straight to legalization in an odd-year election before California is nothing short of remarkable. To throw that legalization away and condemn 10,000 mostly young black people to police harassment they don’t deserve is a high price for them to pay to await the someday maybe legalization you’d like better.

"Radical" Russ Belville is a blogger, podcaster, and host of The Russ Belville Show, a daily two-hour talk radio show focused on the evolution of the legal marijuana industry in the United States. The program is airing live at 3pm Pacific Time from Portland, Oregon, on, with podcast available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Russ began his marijuana activism in 2005 with Oregon NORML, then in 2009 went on to work for National NORML, and found and direct Portland 2015.