Marijuana may become decriminalized in Kent, but not on campus


Courtesy of Michael Fricke

Sensible Kent’s logo.

Gavin Mitten Reporter

The Kent Police Department would not acknowledge the Sensible Marihuana Ordinance if it passed.

Sensible Kent, part of the statewide Sensible Movement Coalition, has a proposed ordinance that would decriminalize misdemeanor amounts of marijuana if passed on Nov 8. The ordinance would remove fines, jail time and court costs for marijuana possession under 200 grams.

If someone is caught with under 200 grams of marijuana, the police would seize it and send it  for destruction, said Michael Lewis, an administrative lieutenant at the Kent Police Department.

The Kent Police Department doesn’t plan to change its enforcement of marijuana laws if the ordinance is passed.

“Even if there is an ordinance [in Kent] that says marijuana possession is legal, it is still illegal by the state of Ohio,” Lewis said. “Chief [Nicholas] Shearer has stated before that we are still going to enforce the laws of the state of Ohio to include possession of marijuana, and our officers would simply be charging somebody under the state code for illegal possession of marijuana.”

The current penalty for the possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor and a $150 maximum fine. The possession of 100-200 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor of the fourth degree with a 30-day jail time penalty and a $250 maximum fine.

If someone is caught with over 200 grams of marijuana, they are charged with a felony. This would not change even if the proposed ordinance passed.

The Kent Police Department’s decision to enforce state law is in dispute.

“There is no conflict between decriminalization and state law, so they cannot enforce state law,” said Michael Fricke, the campaign manager for Sensible Kent.

Fricke is willing to come talk to student organizations and is willing to debate students about the topic of marijuana decriminalization.

If a local ordinance doesn’t increase a penalty from misdemeanor to felony or decrease a penalty from felony to misdemeanor, the ordinance doesn’t conflict with state law, Kent attorney Nancy Grim told The Portager.

The ordinance doesn’t propose to decrease felony charges for possession of marijuana to misdemeanor charges. The ordinance only removes penalties for misdemeanor marijuana possession charges.

The decriminalization of marijuana in Kent would only be applicable outside of campus. Marijuana is considered a Schedule I controlled substance, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Federal law prohibits controlled substances on college campuses.

The Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act requires colleges, universities and professional schools to enact policies that prohibit the possession, use and distribution of alcohol and illegal drugs on campuses.

Tobacco use on campus was compared to marijuana use on campus if marijuana was decriminalized in Kent by Tricia Knoles, a community resource officer for Kent State Police Services.

“It is ok to use tobacco products in the city areas, yet against policy to use tobacco products on [Kent State] property,” Knoles said.

The presence of marijuana can have negative consequences, Lewis said.

“Marijuana is still illegal for good reason,” Lewis said. “Where there’s drug possession and drug sales, there is often violence, there are weapons, there are robberies, things of that nature.”

There is little evidence to suggest that marijuana decriminalization causes an increase in crime rates.

“Our results suggest that marijuana legalization and sales have had minimal to no effect on major crimes in Colorado or Washington [the first two states to legalize marijuana],” according to Justice Quarterly.

Marijuana does affect mental and physical health.

“Marijuana affects the thinking process, and it delays decision making,” Knoles said. “There are a variety of areas in which the students could show an effect of marijuana.”

Smoking marijuana can lead to lung cancer and other respiratory diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of right now, there is little evidence suggesting the decriminalization of marijuana increases marijuana use, sales, etc.

 An arrest record can affect students’ ability to find jobs after they graduate.

If marijuana is decriminalized in Kent, students would benefit because they would not have an arrest record, said Roseann Canfora, a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

A person’s criminal record doesn’t change if marijuana is decriminalized, Lewis said.

Still, most people support decriminalization. Sixty-eight percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, according to a Gallup poll.

Sensible Kent had trouble getting its issue on the ballot. When Sensible Kent originally submitted the petition to the Portage County Board of Elections, the petition received 802 valid signatures, the Record-Courier reported. The petition needed 806 valid signatures to appear on the ballot. After a review, the petition received 815 valid signatures, thus solidifying its spot on the ballot.

“I think Ohio keeps the decriminalization of marijuana off the ballot because they don’t want to see young people, especially young people in college towns like Kent, voting in large numbers,” Canfora said.

Gavin Mitten is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]