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Penalties stay low for pot smokers June 8, 2005 - enquirer.com
A proposal to stiffen penalties for marijuana possession in Cincinnati seemed to go up in smoke Tuesday, as the ordinance failed to get out of City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee.
The ordinance's sponsor, Law Committee Chairman David Pepper, said he was dropping the plan after it became clear he did not have the votes.
Only fellow Democrat John Cranley had publicly endorsed the ordinance.
The law would have raised the penalty for possession for any amount of marijuana - even a single joint - to a third-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. It would apply to amounts up to 100 grams of marijuana, or about 3.5 ounces.
It's now a minor misdemeanor - a $100 ticket with no possibility of jail time. That mirrors Ohio's law, one of the most lenient in the country.
Pepper said stiffer penalties were necessary to discourage suburban buyers from coming to Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine and other "open-air drug markets" in the city.
But people on both ends of the political dial attacked the plan, and opponents outnumbered supporters 9-3 at Tuesday's public hearing.
They included the chairman of the Hamilton County Libertarian Party, a woman who represents a group she calls "Conservatives for Cannabis" and a self-described West Side Republican who likes to smoke pot.
"I am a family man. At the end of the day, after my kids go to bed, just because I choose a different form of relaxation than the rest of you, that makes me a criminal," said Kenneth Naegele, 38, of West Price Hill.
At the other end of the spectrum, Charterite Councilman Christopher Smitherman said the proposal would be more strictly enforced against African-Americans.
He said he wants murderers and rapists to go to jail - "not somebody who is smoking an individual joint, listening to the Grateful Dead and eating a Twinkie."
A few people heckled Pepper as he spelled out his proposal. One woman carried a sign reading, "Get a life, David. Free weed!"
Pepper, a mayoral candidate, said opponents were trivializing the destructive impact of drug dealing in neighborhoods like Madisonville, Avondale, East Price Hill and Northside.
"I hear some laughter in the audience. To a lot of people in these neighborhoods, this isn't funny at all," he said.