Convicted of Marijuana Possession in Cincinnati? A New Ordinance Could Help You Get it Expunged

Under an ordinance council passed today, city administration will work to identify and contact those with low-level marijuana offenses brought by the city that are eligible for expungement.

click to enlarge Cincinnati City Hall - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati City Hall

If you've had a low-level marijuana possession charge brought by the City of Cincinnati, you may be getting a phone call from the city soon. But Cincinnati City Council members hope it is a helpful one. 

Council today passed an ordinance that directs the city's administration to begin identifying and reaching out to those who have been convicted of nonviolent possession charges for having less than 100 grams (two ounces) of marijuana and helping them get their records expunged.

The legislation by council member David Mann and Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman passed 8-1, with Republican Amy Murray as the sole "no" vote. 

"People are going to be shocked by a lawyer proactively calling them about expunging their records," Smitherman said. "To be clear, this has nothing to do with gun convictions or cocaine convictions. This is specifically about low levels of marijuana." 

Under the ordinance, the city would provide a fund for three years starting in July 2021 to pay for representation for those eligible for expungement and to hire a full-time employee to oversee the expungement effort.

The city manager would be responsible for identifying and notifying those who have been convicted of non-violent, low-level marijuana charges and would oversee the hiring of third-party attorneys to represent them. The city manager would also report to council about the program's progress after the first year and every two years after that.

The ordinance cites barriers to housing, employment and education those with such convictions often face. 

"What we're doing here is facilitating our citizens who have these convictions to have access to the judicial system," Mann said. "In the end, the judge decides whether a conviction will be expunged. The prosecutor's office will get an opportunity to weigh in, the probation department will get a chance to weigh in... Somebody who has been convicted of an offense involving a small quantity of marijuana shouldn't have to carry this stain the rest of their life and have difficulties with employment and who knows what else."

Smitherman said it wasn't clear what the ultimate cost of the ordinance would be. 

Earlier this year, council passed legislation directing Cincinnati Police and city prosecutors not to pursue criminal penalties for those caught with less than 100 grams of marijuana. It is still illegal to smoke marijuana in public, however.

Smitherman pointed to statistics showing that 86 percent of the more than 16,000 citations issued by the city for marijuana possession between 2004 and 2019 went to black residents, most of them black men. The vast majority of the citations issued took place under a harsher city anti-marijuana ordinance that was repealed in 2010.

State laws against marijuana still exist. Almost 84 percent of those cited for marijuana under Ohio Revised Code in Cincinnati over the past 15 years have been black.

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