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 Pot Debate?  Not In Ohio



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By Benjamin Duer, T-R Staff Writer  
Source: Times-Reporter  

 While Canadians debate over a proposal to decriminalize small amounts of
 cannabis in their country – much to the chagrin of U.S. officials – the state of Ohio
 did it in the 1980s. In Ohio, possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana is a
 minor misdemeanor, the equivalent of a speeding ticket, and punishable by a $100

There is no jail time.

Although New Philadelphia Police Chief Jeff Urban didn’t give a ringing endorsement to Ohio’s law, he said there’s not much police can do except to follow it.

“We’ve lived with that for awhile,” he said, “but the problem with marijuana use is similar to alcohol use. It’s a drug and it can lead to other (dangerous) things.”

According to the news service Reuters, the proposed Canadian law would only fine people caught with 15 grams or less of marijuana – $110 (in U.S. dollars) for adults and $73 for juveniles.

The bill also would reduce criminal penalties on the growth of up to 25 marijuana plants.

In cases of possession of 15 grams to 30 grams, police would be given the discretion of a fine or press for a summary conviction which, as at present, could result in up to six months in jail.

“When you lower the penalties, people tend to take more risk to use it,” Urban said. “I think it’s almost like saying it’s OK in certain amounts – which is not a good thing.”

Lt. Doug Goudy, jail administrator at the Tuscarawas County jail, said he believes Ohio marijuana laws should be stiffened because current ones don’t deter future drug use.

“I see people come in and out (of jail) for marijuana offenses all the time. Many of them are repeat offenders,” he said.

Plus, he added, “(Marijuana) leads to more serious drugs.”

However, marijuana supporters welcome Canada’s bill.

“We think it’s a small but significant step in the right direction,” said Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.

The Marijuana Policy Project is a reform group, which promotes removal of criminal punishment for marijuana use, especially for medical purposes.

Mirken said the “moderate” proposal would align Canada with other countries, including Great Britain and Spain, which reportedly already have decriminalized marijuana use.

In addition to Ohio, there are 11 other states that also have reportedly eliminated jail time as punishment for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

They are Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina and Oregon.

Despite some state approval for the lower penalties, one of the biggest opponents of Canada’s proposal comes from the United States government.

U.S. drug czar John Walters reportedly worries about the potential for increased marijuana imports into the country from its northerly neighbor and greater cultivation of the drug.

And, according to the U.S. Justice Department’s 2003 National Drug Threat Assessment report, Canada is a main source of foreign-grown marijuana available in the United States.

Walters reportedly has warned that this proposed Canadian law could tighten security through U.S. borders, if approved.

However, Mirken contended Walters’ claims are based loosely on factual information and said, “there are no signs of (these great dangers)” in the 12 decriminalized states.

Not every provision of the Canadian proposal is met with open arms by the Marijuana Policy Project, Mirken said.

According to Reuters, the bill also would increase maximum penalties for large marijuana cultivators. Mirken said his marijuana reform organization has concerns with this term.

“By increasing penalties and toughening enforcement of growth and distribution, what they may do is push the marijuana market further into the hands of the most hardcore criminal element,” Mirken said.

He said his reform group would agree to a regulated system, like alcohol and tobacco.

“There is room for discussion on the details,” he said, “but we would like to see a regulated market for adults with punishment reserved for behavior which harms others.”

Complete Title: Pot Debate? Not in Ohio — Phila Chief Still No Fan of Easing Marijuana Laws

Source: Times-Reporter (OH)
Author: Benjamin Duer, T-R Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, May 29, 2003
Copyright: 2003 The Times-Reporter
Contact: timesreporter@tusco.net
Website: http://www.timesreporter.com

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