Yellow Springs decriminalizes marijuana in the village

Council President says this is a step toward addressing racial inequity

YELLOW SPRINGS — Putting into law what was already established practice by the Yellow Springs Police Department, the village council here has voted to decriminalize minor marijuana offenses.

The new law, passed Tuesday by council, will take effect in 30 days.

Individuals found with less than 200 grams of marijuana will be charged with a civil infraction subject to a fine of $50 or less in the Yellow Springs Mayor’s Court instead of a misdemeanor. Patients with medical marijuana cards can possess more than 200 grams and not be charged with a criminal offense.

“I want to emphasize a move to keep people out of a system that we feel is racist and otherwise destroys people’s lives,” said Council President Brian Housh.

According to an analysis published by the American Civil Liberties Union in April, Black people are nearly four times as likely to be arrested in the U.S. for marijuana-possession offenses.

Housh said this is something the village has been working on for a long time. Yellow Springs Police Chief Brian Carlson said the number of minor misdemeanor drug offenses in the village have plummeted over the last few years and there have been zero charges in 2020.

“We are not using the heavy arm of the law when dealing with marijuana use,” he said. “I know that the officers are on the right track.”

Carlson clarified that this law change doesn’t create a “free for all frenzy” regarding marijuana use in the village. People should still refrain from using marijuana in public or operating a motor vehicle under the influence, he said.

Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers and Greene County Sheriff’s deputies are not obligated to charge people applying village ordinances and may still charge individuals possessing marijuana in the village with misdemeanors under state law. Breanne Parcels, the village solicitor, said the village can’t prevent those departments from applying state law but will attempt to educate them about the local ordinance and ask them to charge accordingly.

Housh said this is part of a larger push by the village council to decriminalize minor offenses and achieve greater racial equity in the village. He said the council plans to decriminalize minor traffic offenses such as a busted tail light or a rolling stop next.

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