Marijuana: Pot an Issue in Cincinnati Mayoral Race 10/14/05

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Under Ohio law, possession of up to four ounces of marijuana is considered a ticketable offense, punishable by no more than a $150 fine. That was way too lenient for Cincinnati mayoral candidate David Pepper, and back in June he briefly floated a proposal to make it a misdemeanor offense punishable by a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail. While that proposal went over like a lead balloon, and Pepper soon backed away from it, the issue continues to play out in Cincinnati pre-election politics.

At a question and answer session with students at the Seven Hills Upper School last Friday, which was covered by the Cincinnati Enquirer, one of the students asked Pepper about his now abandoned proposal. "We have become the place in the entire region where drugs are dealt," Pepper said, pointing to Vine Street in the city's majority black Over-the-Rhine neighborhood as the area's worst "open air drug market." In most drug arrests in Over-the-Rhine, he added, neither the buyer nor the seller are from the neighborhood.

"They can have an enormous amount of drugs and only get a ticket," he complained. "If you do in San Diego what you do in Cincinnati, you get in a lot more trouble." Pepper did not make clear why exposing the city's marijuana smokers to "a lot more trouble" was a good thing, nor did he explain how increasing penalties for marijuana possession would stop drug dealing.

The pot question and Pepper's response left an opening for a rival, state Sen. Mark Mallory, who promptly took advantage of it. "I hope you all got an answer out of that, because I certainly did not," Mallory told the students. "Sometimes you don't have a lot of experience with things and you don't know what you're saying. If you have an ounce of marijuana on you, you're not considered to be dealing in marijuana. Drug trafficking laws are very different from drug possession laws," he said, and the focus should be on distribution.

Pepper, the scion of a prominent, wealthy Cincinnati family, has made a point of saying he has never smoked marijuana.

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Issue #407 -- 10/14/05

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