Portsmouth, Ohio city leaders debated a proposed city ordinance to decriminalize pot at Monday night’s City Council Meeting. The difference of opinion between Mayor Kevin E. Johnson and Portsmouth City Council Vice President Sean Dunne is clear. However, neither man lost their temper during the spirited discussion during the second reading of the ordinance.
Council Clerk Diana Ratliff read several comments from residents both for and against the ordinance. The proposed legislation would decriminalize possession of less than 200 grams (7 ounces) of pot.
The differing opinions of Johnson and Dunne reflected the range of opinions of their constituents. Johnson originally supported the ordinance but changed his mind after considering all the legal ramifications. Councilman Dunne introduced the legislation.
Dunne Not Encouraged To Square Dance
Dunne disagreed strongly with the position that decriminalizing pot would encourage people to use it. “Square dancing is legal, I’m not encouraged to square dance.”
He said he just plain didn’t understand many people’s issues with the legislation. Dunne questioned the motives of some who opposed legalization or decriminalization. He pointed out that the pharmaceutical industry spent a lot of money to oppose legalization. “Private prisons have lobbied against changes. Websites that make a lot of money by publishing people’s mugshots are going to be against it.” (We’re not sure which websites the councilman is referring to. Here at SCDN, we’ve covered the wide range of opinions on this topic. Councilman Dunne declined an interview unless we first published an article on another topic he felt strongly about.)
Mayor Johnson said that this ordinance isn’t about his personal feelings on pot use. “This matter is probably one of the most serious issues I’ve taken since I’ve been on council. I won’t sit here tonight and argue whether marijuana should be legalized or not be legalized. I won’t express my personal feelings about adults using marijuana. I’ve talked to law enforcement, I’ve talked to the chief of police, I’ve talked to attorneys, drug counselors, and on and on just to get their feelings.”
Do We Want To Make That Statement?
Johnson said that it all comes down to one thing: Marijuana is illegal in the state of Ohio except for medical purposes. City Solicitor John Haas confirmed that changing the city ordinance would have no effect on state or federal laws involving pot possession. This ordinance is more about making a statement.
The mayor isn’t sure it’s a statement the city should make. “It’s not my personal feelings. It’s not the point. Do we want to be known for this?”
For Dunne, the answer is simple. “Do we want to be known for this? “I’d say absolutely. I feel guilty we haven’t done enough for an opioid epidemic.” The councilman said, “The question isn’t if we should do this, it’s what more can we do to assure civil liberties are not trampled on.”
Talk To Law Enforcement
The mayor suggested the council needed to hear from the people who enforce drug laws. “We need to reach out to law enforcement and ask them how they feel about council decriminalizing marijuana.”
Dunne had another idea. “I wouldn’t limit it to police. I’d encourage you to talk to people who have had records with marijuana. Listen to their stories as well.” He said it’s also important to consider the racial aspects of the War on Drugs.
Sworn To Follow The Laws
Johnson pointed out that all members of the council take an oath to follow Ohio law. “I don’t know how we decriminalize marijuana and it’s still a state law. I put my hand on the bible and I raised my hand and took another oath.”
The mayor wanted to know what the rush is to pass the legislation. Due to COVID restrictions, council is unable to hold in-person public meetings. The mayor suggested researching what’s happened with drug use and crime in other Ohio cities that decriminalized marijuana. “Why not table the matter until we can have a public hearing and do further research on what’s happened in Ohio cities that have decriminalized?”
Councilman Dunne thinks they’ve already had plenty of time to consider the matter. “We’re six weeks into this. Why wouldn’t we have already researched? I just don’t know how much more time we need to review the research.”
Second Ward Councilwoman Charlotte Gordon said she’d heard from people both for an against the legislation. “I think it certainly warrants going forward for a third reading.”
Council voted 3 to 2 in favor of having a third reading. Mayor Johnson and Councilman Andrew McManus voted ‘no.’