Cincinnati City Council Could Vote to Strike Consideration of Minor Marijuana Possession Charges From the City's Hiring Process

The idea introduced today by councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld came from Cincinnati resident Leon Washington, who won the second-annual Policy Pitch Night in August.

Oct 22, 2019 at 3:37 pm
click to enlarge Cincinnati City Hall - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati City Hall

The City of Cincinnati would no longer consider convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession when making hiring decisions if a motion soon coming before Cincinnati City Council passes.

Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld introduced that motion today. But he didn’t come up with the idea — Leon Washington did.

Washington says he once lost out on a "pretty good job" due to having a minor marijuana possession charge on his record, an experience that informed the pitch he made before a live audience and councilmembers Sittenfeld, Jeff Pastor and Greg Landsman Aug. 8.

One of five finalists for community engagement group Cohear’s Policy Pitch Night, Washington ended up convincing the audience and winning the competition.

“This possession charge is holding people back from even applying for some jobs," Washington told a council committee today. “For me, this was a chance to bring my life into this and use it to further a group of people. If we were to open up the door for a city job, something they could be respected for… it would allow us to see straightforward change. You can’t deny this change.”

Washington points out that African Americans are three times as likely to pick up possession charges — meaning they’re three times as likely to be turned down for jobs that use minor marijuana charges as screening criteria.

Sittenfeld says the motion, which would direct the city manager to cease that practice for city hiring, makes sense, given that city council has already passed an ordinance decriminalizing possession of fewer than 100 grams of marijuana.

“The real thrust of this is that we, city government, said that this thing is no longer illegal, therefore it should no longer be used as a punitive measure when hiring for jobs,” Sittenfeld said.

Sittenfeld says other ideas presented at the pitch night — including one for designated spaces in city facilities for women who are lactating, one calling for legal representation for those facing eviction, another suggesting the city create raised crosswalks at busy intersections and a recommendation that long-time residents in quickly-developing Cincinnati neighborhoods receive tax abatements to help them stay in their homes — could also be taken up by council.

“I did vote for Mr. Washington’s idea, but I think you’ll see some of the others also implemented as policy,” Sittenfeld said.

Cohear founder Dani Isaacsohn says that getting fresh ideas into City Hall was the intention of the effort, now in its second year. Last year, the founder of minority business incubator Mortar, Derrick Braziel, won the day with his idea to create a city office to nurture business growth and innovation among minority entrepreneurs. 

“Everyday citizens have good ideas for policy,” he told council today. 

Cohear received 26 different pitches from Cincinnati residents prior to the pitch night, Isaacsohn said. A community panel then scored the ideas and the top five pitchers presented their proposals on pitch night.

Now, Washington’s idea is bouncing around City Hall.

It will likely be considered in a council committee in the coming weeks and already has support from councilmembers Sittenfeld, Jeff Pastor, Wendell Young and Greg Landsman.