Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine approved petition language today for a proposal asking state legislators to pass a law permitting expungement of criminal records for some past marijuana convictions.
The “Fresh Start Act” is an initiated statue rather than a constitutional amendment. It is proposed by the ResponsibleOhio organization, the same group that is pushing to get a marijuana legalization amendment on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.
The idea is that if recreational and medical use of marijuana are legalized in Ohio, previous convictions for minor marijuana convictions could be reviewed and expunged, legally wiping them off the books.
Under Ohio elections law, an initiated statute requires submission of a petition with 91,677 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters. The General Assembly would then have four months beginning in January 2016 to enact the proposed law. If that does not happen, Fresh Start backers could gather another 91,677 signatures to put the issue to a public vote in the November 2016 election.
“People shouldn’t be haunted by the ghosts of their past,” said Ian James, ResponsibleOhio executive director. “The Fresh Start Act will provide the clean slate that so many folks need to get on with their lives and contribute positively to our society. It's the right thing to do, and we're confident voters will agree.”
Ohio law now says possession of smaller quantities of marijuana – typically less than 8 ounces – is generally a misdemeanor offense. However, criminal convictions can have numerous consequences for future employment, housing and college financial aid.
A conviction for possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana, about 31/2 ounces, is a minor misdemeanor, typically punishable by a $150 fine and no jail time. Possession of 100 to 200 grams is a fourth-degree misdemeanor (maximum 30 days in jail, $250 fine), while possession of larger amounts is a felony with a possible prison sentence.
Opponents of ResponsibleOhio say the ballot issue is a smokescreen because minor misdemeanors described in the Fresh Start Act already qualify for expungement under Ohio law.