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Will Cleveland Celebrate Its Next Title with Decriminalized Cannabis?

June 21, 2016

All the celebrating in Cleveland last night got us wondering: Can the good people of The Cleve toast the Cavaliers’ first NBA championship with cannabis? 

The short answer is no. 

The long answer is more complicated. 

Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a bill to legalize medical marijuana earlier this month, but the state’s regulated MMJ program won’t be set up for at least a year. 

Cleveland isn’t the best town to sport a joint or a vape pen, especially if you’re a person of color. According to data from the Ohio Department of Public Safety, African-Americans made up 68 percent of all Cleveland arrests in 2012, but only represent 53 percent of its population. That arrest rate rose to 74 percent in 2013. 

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As it happens, LeBron James’ hometown of Akron, Ohio, is a much better locale if your championship celebration involves a little Cannabis sativa. The town treats possession of less than 100 grams of cannabis as a citable offense only, with a fine of $100. Possession of 100 to 200 grams will cost you $250. Jail time only kicks in if you’re found with 200 grams or more. 

As for Cleveland itself, relief may eventually be on the way. 

Earlier this morning we reached Brian Adams, president of Cleveland NORML, who was a little sleep-deprived after last night’s victory celebration. Adams told us his local group is advocating for the decriminalization of cannabis similar to what neighboring Toledo, Ohio, did last September. That city’s “Sensible Marijuana Ordinance,” approved by more than 70 percent of voters, removed all jail time and fines for marijuana violations, and prohibited civil asset forfeiture measures related to cannabis infractions. 

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Adams told Leafly that his group is advocating for an ordinance in Cleveland that looks very much like the one Toledo passed. 

“What we are trying to do is decriminalize possession of cannabis in the city of Cleveland,” Adams said. “We started writing our bill in May of 2015, and we had our first draft from our lawyer on May 20.” 

“We were the third city [in Ohio] to put together language in a bill that would decriminalize cannabis,” he added. 

“We are currently closing in on 1,000 signatures for the bill,” Adams told Leafly. “We need 5,000 signatures so we can get placed on the ballot, and we are shooting for double or triple that number when it is all said and done.” 

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“We are hoping to be on the ballot in March of next year,” he said. “We are not rushing or sweating this, because there is no real deadline. We are just trying to get enough awareness about this issue.” 

If the bill passes, Cleveland NORML will continue to press lawmakers for the decriminalization of cannabis around the state. Adams said his organization is playing the long game. 

“After we get the city ordinance, then we go to county [ordinances],” he said. “One county at a time.”

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