Living Out Loud: : Reefer Madness

Examining a silly law

Aug 23, 2006 at 2:06 pm

Last Friday night, I met up with a buddy downtown, went to a bar and had a few drinks. Well, let's say my friend had a few. The vodka and tonics were tasting pretty good, and maybe I overdid it a bit too.

We both live fairly close to one another and both believe in public transportation. While walking the four blocks to catch the bus back home, my friend took a joint from his shirt pocket and lit it. As he inhaled deeply and coughed, he wanted to know if I wanted a hit. I said no. I was already feeling pretty good from the alcohol.

Now he's done this more than a few times, walking down the sidewalk smoking grass. It always makes me nervous, but my friend knows the law and knows what he's doing.

If a cop sees him doing it, he's going to jail. As for me and my sort-of-drunken self, I'll be free to catch that bus, go on home and sleep in my own bed.

Welcome to Cincinnati, where reefer madness rules.

This situation started in late March. Cincinnati City Council, on a vote of 6-2, decided to do away with the old penalty for getting caught with less than 10 grams of marijuana — it was a simple misdemeanor with a $100 fine.

Now it's a fourth degree misdemeanor with a maximum of 30 days in jail and a fine of $250. If you get caught a second time, plan on doing six months in jail and writing a $1,000 check.

How ridiculous, dumb and regressive. How Cincinnatish. How like our city leaders to try to protect us from the evils of smoking a little weed.

I'm an old hippie. Back in the early 1970s, I smoked it on a daily basis, got high at work, had a variety pack of different pot to choose from and had so many pipes I'd give them away to those less fortunate.

This was during the Carter administration, when it appeared likely that possession of marijuana would become legal. Then Reagan won the presidency and everything went to hell. The good old days were gone.

Now I'm middle-aged, will sometimes smoke pot if offered to me and don't have any idea how much a bag of dope would even cost.

I've turned to drinking alcohol — you know, the conservative and legal drug of choice — but that doesn't mean I won't take up the fight with my pot-smoking friends and point out how insane this law is.

Councilman Cecil Thomas led the way on this law, saying it would reduce the violent crime rate in our city. Really? Getting high on pot means turning violent? Pardon me, sir, but what the hell are you smoking?

I've never known a marijuana user to get violent. Take my friend who smokes pot while walking down the sidewalk. He's harmless, mild-mannered and wouldn't hurt a fly.

Everyone I know who smokes the stuff — and I know a lot of people who do — are like this. Marijuana relaxes you, makes you feel mellow and peaceful. It doesn't enrage you to carry a gun, go on a killing spree downtown or pick up a trash can and throw it through a Starbucks window.

Come on, Councilman Thomas, get real. Don't you think our jails are full enough without putting pot smokers in them? Wouldn't it make more sense to save that space for those who rob us, hurt us or even kill us? What purpose do you think this law really serves?

Councilman Jim Tarbell voted against this law, and I think Mayor Mark Malloy knows how nuts it is, too. In March, he allowed it to become law without his signature. He said he wanted to express his disapproval with it but knew his veto would be overridden.

Frankly, Mayor Mallory, I would have vetoed it anyway to make a point: Cincinnati has more serious issues to contend with than passing a backward, silly-ass law socking it to nonviolent, non-criminal citizens who happen to smoke a little grass.

Thankfully, the law was imposed only for one year. In about seven months, council will review it and decide whether or not to keep it in force. Let's hope these folks can wake up and get their priorities in order.

With the various issues facing us throughout Hamilton County and particularly downtown — crumbling sidewalks, business closings, high crime and record-breaking homicide rates — let's see if city council realizes they have more important work to do. Let's turn this "crime" back into a simple thing like a speeding ticket.

With all the problems we have, Cincinnati is a place where you need to get high.

CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]. Living Out Loud runs every week at and the second and fourth issues of each month in the paper.