Pro-Marijuana Committee Collecting Signatures to Change Expungement Law

A pro-marijuana organization in Ohio plans to begin collecting signatures for a proposed law that would allow certain cannabis crimes to be expunged once the controlled substance becomes legal in The Buckeye State.

ResponsibleOhio, a political action committee trying to legalize medical and recreational marijuana in Ohio, has drafted what is referred to as the Fresh Start Act. This would allow those convicted of certain marijuana offenses to have those records expunged or destroyed, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

The Ohio Ballot Board voted 3-2 Wednesday to give ResponsibleOhio permission to begin collecting the necessary 91,677 signatures of Ohio voters to move forward in the statute process. If approved, the expungement language would be separate from its original proposal to legalize marijuana.

The initial amendment would create the Ohio Marijuana Control Commission to regulate the acquisition, growth, cultivation, extraction, production, processing, manufacture, testing, distribution, retail sales, licensing and taxation of the substance and related products.

It also would legalize the use of medical marijuana for patients with debilitating medical conditions if a medical marijuana certification has been provided by the patient's treating physician. Other states have included conditions such as cancer, AIDS and glaucoma.

Additionally, it would allow marijuana and marijuana-infused products for personal use in amounts of one ounce or less by people 21 years of age or older. It also would make it legal for those 21 years old or older to purchase, possess, transport, use and share one ounce or less with another person 21 years old or older.

Under the Fresh Start Act, those who have been convicted of possession of less than one ounce of marijuana could fight to have the record of the offense sealed. Currently, according to Ohio Revised Code § 2925.11, possession of less than 100 grams is a minor misdemeanor possession offense.

This minor misdemeanor currently is punishable by a fine up to $150. A first offense likely would not result in a jail sentence. Although it is a misdemeanor, a conviction could have serious consequences on a person's future, and expunging the record could be beneficial.

Some argue the Fresh Start Act is not needed because minor possession offenses already can be sealed. In some cases, however, record sealing does not protect the person's past enough. The information still can be found through background checks and internet searches. Expungement would be more thorough.

According to Ohio Rev. Code § 2953.32, a person currently may be eligible to seal his or her criminal record if he or she is a first time offender or a misdemeanor offender who has completed all of his or her sentencing requirements. A misdemeanor record would have to be sealed one year after completing the requirements.

Once the signatures have been verified, the Ohio General Assembly has four months to act on the law, according to the Columbus Dispatch. If the law is changed, rejected or not acted on, the committee would need to collect another 91,677 signatures to put the law before voters on the statewide ballot.

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