On August 22, Ohio became the sixth state in the last two years to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the new law, which goes into effect in November, one may possess up to 100 grams (about 3½ ounces) and be subject only to a maximum $100 fine—no arrest, jail, or criminal record.
The new marijuana provisions were passed as part of a general drug law reform bill that had been bouncing around the Ohio Assembly for some time. The legislators were jarred into action when a federal court in Cincinnati tossed out the state's former penalties for possession for sale (10 to 20 years) and sale (20 to 40 years) as "cruel and unusual punishment." The case was brought on behalf of Edward Downey, a 48-year-old black man from Cleveland who was doing 30 to 60 for selling about $20 worth of weed to a police agent. Upon realizing that penalties no longer existed for certain offenses, the lawmakers pushed the bill through shortly before their end-of-summer recess.
The fate of Ohio's 205 prisoners currently serving time under the old law is still uncertain, however. The State is appealing to the Supreme Court and hoping to recalculate their sentences, but Downey's lawyer, Ovid E. Lewis, has threatened to take the resentencing provision to court if necessary. "The prisoners were sentenced under an unconstitutional law and must be released," says Lewis.
The other states which have decriminalized marijuana possession in small amounts are Alaska, Maine, Colorado, California, and Oregon.