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Decriminalization of marijuana to appear on ballot in Dayton

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) - The Dayton city commission has unanimously chosen to allow voters to decide on decriminalization of possessing small amounts of marijuana.

The issue is set to appear on the November ballot, according to city officials. This is not an effort to legalize marijuana; if a revised ordinance goes into effect, possession of 100 grams or less of marijuana would remain a minor misdemeanor, but penalties like fines would be eliminated, according to assistant city attorney Martin Gehres.

Use of marijuana is also considered possession under the law, Gehres said.

Citizens have asked the city to consider decriminalizing marijuana, Mayor Nan Whaley said, but the city commission wants voters to be part of the decision.

"I think people are probably using marijuana right now in the city as we speak," Mayor Whaley said when asked about the safety of decriminalizing marijuana.

Whaley said she believes it doesn't make sense for marijuana to be criminalized as Americans' views have changed.

"When you take something like marijuana that really isn't deadly, it doesn't cause you to become addicted to other drugs, and so many people are or have used it that it doesn't make any sense for it to be an offense," she said.

The mayor said she also considers criminalization of drugs to be a civil rights issue.

"Drug policy has been unevenly handed down to different communities, and so this is one way where we can minimize that," Whaley explained.

The ordinance change would apply only to minor misdemeanor possession of 100 grams or less of marijuana, and the current fine of $150 would be eliminated, Gehres said.

Possession of greater amounts of marijuana becomes enforceable by state law, and city leaders don't have the power to change those penalties, Gehres added.

"This is functionally if you're possessing a joint, a blunt in the city of Dayton, and you're arrested or you're cited, that citation will be $0," Gehres said.

Officials have looked at similar actions taken in other cities like Toledo regarding decriminalization, Gehres said.

Residents we spoke with said they like the idea of voters being able to decide.

"It's important to the community that they get to make the decision and not someone else or authority figures," said Darnell Miller.

The city is still working out the details of how the ordinance would be changed and enforced if the proposal is approved, Gehres said.

The city commission would adopt a revised ordinance if the vote in November is in favor of a change, Whaley said.

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