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Judge supports changes to Cleveland’s misdemeanor marijuana laws

CLEVELAND-- Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Lauren Moore has seen a lot of drug cases in her 16 years on the bench, including while leading the court’s drug diversion program over the last five years.

Now, for the first time in her tenure, Cleveland's laws governing minor marijuana charges could change.

“It's an overdue conversation,” Moore said. “I'm glad we're having it.”

The proposed ordinance, introduced Wednesday by Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin, would change laws for possessing, growing and giving away small amounts of marijuana.

It calls for eliminating all fines, penalties and drug treatment requirements for having less than 200 grams of marijuana.

Currently, people possessing between 100 and 200 grams of marijuana can face up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine, but they are rarely sent to jail. People possessing less than 100 grams of the drug are guilty of a minor misdemeanor and can face a $150 fine.

According to Cleveland Municipal Court, there were 1,799 cases involving less than 100 grams of marijuana in 2018; 1,886 cases in 2017; and 1,665 cases in 2016.

Griffin said he proposed the measure to reduce social costs, including disqualification for college grants and to reduce uneven enforcement against minorities.

“Most of the people who get charged with these cases happen to be African American, and usually, it’s pursuant to a traffic stop,” Moore said. “We want to make sure that people are not unnecessarily punished where others aren't for doing the same thing.”

She said she supports reduced fines for minor misdemeanor marijuana charges.

“I would be supportive of a change in the law that does decriminalize it,” Moore said. “We don't want to just pile on fines on people who are already marginalized and already from poor areas and marginally employed, it doesn’t help.”

However, she said she feels education is a critical component of a solution.

“The more you know what it can do to your livelihood, what it can do to people who drive, I think they would maybe take a second look,” Moore said.

The ordinance is being reviewed by the city’s law department and is expected to be assigned to a council committee for debate this fall.

Several other Ohio cities, including Columbus and Cincinnati, have already passed similar legislation.

Moore said she and other municipal court judges plan to be part of the debate.

“We'll definitely be part of the conversation,” Moore said.

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