Local group takes next step to decriminalize marijuana in Newark

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A measure that would remove fines and penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana in Newark is getting closer to a vote.

Volunteers with the East Central Ohio Decriminalization Initiative have been working over the last few months to decriminalize marijuana in the city.

Group members turned in more than 2,000 signatures to the Newark City Clerk Wednesday. Supporters are confident they have enough to get their proposal on the November ballot.

Volunteers pounded the pavement across the city over the last few weeks to gather the signatures. They needed to collect 1,063 by July 15.

“We've registered hundreds of 18, 19-years-olds who were excited to register to vote just to go vote for this. So I really think the numbers are there,” East Central Ohio Decriminalization Founder Leanne Barbee said.

The East Central Ohio Decriminalization Initiative would eliminate fines, incarceration, probation or any other punitive or rehabilitative measure for possessing less than 200 grams of marijuana in the city of Newark.

Under current law in Newark, if someone is caught with pot it would cost a maximum fine of $500 and up to 60 days in jail.

Newark police said they’ve arrested or charged 15 people under the drug abuse code within the last six months. Police said if voters decide to change the law in November, officers would continue to enforce whatever law is in effect.

Ohio State law says anyone in possession of fewer than 100 grams of marijuana faces a maximum $150 fine.

There are those in Newark like Fred Mathis who is against the newest proposal.

"No. I think that still needs to be left up to law enforcement. I don't agree with none of it," he said.

But the movement to decriminalize pot across Ohio has already started.

Toledo voters passed an initiative last year to decriminalize pot. Groups have turned in signatures to city officials already this year in Logan, Bellaire, Roseville and Byesville.

The grassroots group, The Athens Cannabis Ordinance, has also started collecting signatures for a fall ballot measure to decriminalize marijuana.

Newark may not be the last stop for East Central Ohio Decriminalization.

"Newark is just the first one if we succeed we'll move on to other ones for next year's election,” Barbee said.

The Licking County Board of Elections has to review and validate the signatures before a measure can be placed on the November ballot.