Ohio marijuana legalization backers are pushing another ballot measure to give a “fresh start” to those convicted of previous marijuana violations.

ResponsibleOhio filed the “Fresh Start Act” today with Attorney General Mike DeWine. Unlike the marijuana proposal, which is an amendment to the Ohio Constitution, Fresh Start is an initiated statute. It would ask the General Assembly to enact a law calling for “review and expungement of criminal records for people with past marijuana convictions if the crime is no longer illegal” if marijuana legalization passes in the Nov. 3 election.

If state lawmakers do not pass the proposed law, ResponsibleOhio could collect signatures to place the issue on the fall 2016 ballot as an initiated statute for voters to decide.

“We believe that we should not keep people unfairly shackled to their past when marijuana is legalized,” Ian James, ResponsibleOhio executive director, said in a statement.

A conviction for possession of smaller quantities marijuana — typically less than 8 ounces — is generally a misdemeanor offense in Ohio, but criminal conviction can have numerous consequences for future employment, housing and college financial aid, James said. An offense also could be accompanied by a driver's license suspension.

A conviction for possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana, about 3½ ounces, is a minor misdemeanor in Ohio, 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). An offense also could be accompanied by a driver's license suspension. Possession of larger amounts is a felony with a possible prison sentence.

Under Ohio elections law, an initiated statute requires submission of a petition with 91,677 signatures. If the legislature does not act in four months beginning in January 2016, ResponsibleOhio could collect another 91,677 signatures to place the issue on the ballot next year.

Marcie Seidel, executive director of the Drug Free Action Alliance Ohio, called the Fresh Start proposal “a smokescreen” because minor misdemeanors already qualify for expungement under Ohio law.

Adam Lee Nemann
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Trial and Defense Attorney, Adjunct Professor of Law at Capital University, founder of Nemann Law Offices
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