If you get caught almost anywhere else in Ohio with a marijuana pipe or roach clip, you can be fined. In Akron, you can be arrested and jailed.
The Ohio Revised Code classifies both marijuana possession and marijuana paraphernalia as a minor misdemeanor. But venture inside the borders of Ohio’s fifth-largest city and those offenses become two different animals:
•?Possession (up to 3½ ounces): minor misdemeanor. You can be fined up to $150, but you can’t be arrested.
•?Paraphernalia: fourth-degree misdemeanor. You are subject to immediate arrest and as many as 30 days in jail.
In an era when marijuana is legal in two U.S. states and has been decriminalized in 14 others, a person in Akron can still go directly to jail for carrying around a roach clip?
Even if you are not among the 58 percent of Americans who believe recreational marijuana should be perfectly legal — and, frankly, I’m on the fence — you would have to admit that Akron’s current marijuana ordinances are completely lacking in logic.
Put those two laws together and this is what Akron is saying: a roach clip is more harmful than marijuana itself.
Among those who have run into this contradiction is Sean Buchanan, an attorney with Slater & Zurz in Akron.
From his office on the 21st floor of the PNC building (formerly known as 1 Cascade Plaza), he has a panoramic view of the downtown, with Lock 3 and Canal Park in the foreground. Buchanan is hoping city leaders will step back and take a panoramic view of the marijuana laws.
Perhaps Akron City Council simply forgot to address the paraphernalia wording when it decriminalized possession. In any event, Buchanan believes the quirk has been used as a club by both police and prosecutors.
“The difference for average people between arrest and no arrest is huge,” Buchanan notes. “And when you’ve got that threat hanging over your head — 30 days in jail — that alters the entire court process.”
One of his clients, a man stopped while driving through Akron, later agreed to a plea-bargain deal he probably wouldn’t have taken if jail time were not a possibility.
“It would have been a traffic stop anywhere else,” Buchanan says. “If he had made it to Green, he would have gotten a ticket — no different than a seat-belt ticket.”
Buchanan believes police have taken advantage of the situation as well.
“When you get that arrest power,” he says, “it opens up a full range of searches that you otherwise don’t get.”
Akron Police Chief James Nice, asked whether his department would support or oppose a reduction in the paraphernalia penalty, said he needed some time to research the matter.
But Council President Garry Moneypenny, a former police chief and sheriff’s department honcho, says he is not uncomfortable with providing law enforcement with an extra club — mainly, he says, because an offender with an ongoing drug problem who consistently has resisted treatment is far more likely to acquiesce when threatened with jail time.
On the other hand, Moneypenny recognizes the lack of logic, and says he is certain the local ordinances were not consciously set up this way.
“If the majority of council wanted to do this,” he says of reducing the paraphernalia penalty, “I’d probably go along with it, just to make it consistent with the state.”
Ward 4 Councilman Russel Neal Jr. plans to research the matter, including its legal history, but expressed concern and said it doesn’t seem logical.
Several other council members wanted to do some homework before offering any opinion.
Attorney Buchanan hopes that once they crack the books, they will grasp the big picture and swing into action.
“I think, with criminal law especially, when you’re talking about the organized power of the state against an individual, [the overall policy has] got to be consistent,” he says.
“What are the risks? What are the dangers here?
“Frankly, they have a [higher] level of paraphernalia offense for needles and syringes that makes a lot of sense. That’s different.
“I just don’t think they’ve brought this in line with where it should be.”
Amen. Anyone who thinks otherwise is one toke over the line.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.