Members Circulate Petitions Near Columbus State, OSU

Possession of 7 ounces of marijuana -- enough to roll nearly 200 joints --
would effectively become legal in Columbus if Kenneth Schweickart gets his way.

Schweickart and a group called For a Better Ohio are circulating a petition
near Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College, seeking to
place an initiative before city voters in November that would rule out
arrest or prosecution for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

Under Ohio law, the cutoff for misdemeanor possession is 200 grams, about 7
ounces. Depending on how it was packed, 7 ounces of marijuana would fill a
one-gallon freezer bag and could fetch up to $650 on the street, Columbus
police spokesman Sgt. Earl Smith said.

Schweickart said his group is not advocating marijuana use. "We're
advocating sensible policies to replace old, failed policies.''

Mayor Michael B. Coleman is opposed to the initiative, said his spokesman,
Mike Brown.

"While we're committed to taking Columbus to a higher level, this is not
what we had in mind,'' he said.

Schweickart, 30, who said he is six quarters away from a degree in social
work from Ohio State but is not enrolled now, said students are a major
focus of For a Better Ohio's campaign.

A 1998 federal law that withholds financial aid from students convicted of
any type of drug violation is at the core of the effort, he said.

"That's a main rally cry for our effort, to protect students from losing
their financial aid if they're caught with as little as a crumb of
marijuana,'' he said.

The U.S. Department of Education said 1,648 students were turned down for
financial aid nationally because they admitted to drug convictions last
year. That number could rise next fall because the department intends to
deny aid to applicants who do not answer the drug- conviction question.

Decriminalizing misdemeanor amounts of marijuana, Schweickart said, also
would allow adults who use the drug for medical purposes or in the privacy
of their own home to do so without fear. The initiative does not call for
any change in marijuana laws for juveniles.

Smith said officers enforce whatever laws citizens decide are necessary.
But he said decriminalizing marijuana could have consequences.

"There's a clear correlation in the majority of our crimes of violence with
intoxication, whether it's alcohol or drugs,'' he said. "Generally
speaking, anything that reduces inhibition leads to problems.''

To make the ballot, For a Better Ohio must gather signatures from 7,213
registered Columbus voters by Aug. 22, says the Franklin County Board of
Elections. But the actual deadline to file petitions is likely to be early
July because the Columbus City Council recesses in August and would have to
approve the initiative by the end of July for it to make the ballot.

Schweickart said he already has 2,000 signatures and hopes to have 10,000
by June 2, when Hemp Fest will be celebrated at OSU. He said his group is
registering students to vote while it collects signatures.

The Franklin County Municipal Court Clerk's office says that 1,783 people
were convicted of misdemeanor drug crimes in Franklin County in 2000. The
statistic does not break down those convictions by drug or by the community
in which the person was charged. There were 1,596 felony drug convictions.

While laws advocating the medical use of marijuana have won support
recently in eight states, decriminalization for general use has been far
less successful.

Even medical marijuana can be a tough sell. California's medical-marijuana
statute is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1997, Ohio
legislators repealed a law that allowed medical use as a defense for those
charged with possession of marijuana.

Newshawk: Amanda,
Pubdate: Tue, 17 Apr 2001
Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Copyright: 2001 The Columbus Dispatch
Author: Doug Caruso, Dispatch City Hall Reporter