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Athens to vote on marijuana law changes

The Athens Cannabis Ordinance proposed would to get rid of the $150 fine and court costs for possession of small amounts of pot. (WSYX/WTTE)

Voters in Athens will decide whether to get rid of penalties for getting convicted for having marijuana. An ordinance on the ballot next month proposes to get rid of the fine and court costs for possession of small amounts of pot.

"The Athens Cannabis Ordinance", or TACO for short, wouldn't legalize marijuana or decriminalize it. Currently there's a $150 fine for marijuana possession in Athens and typically about $100 in court costs according to the Athens Chief Prosecutor Tracy Meek.

"You can't decriminalize marijuana," Meek said. No matter what passes in the City of Athens, marijuana is still going to be illegal."

Supporters of the change said they hope this is a step in the direction of legalizing cannabis.

"It's about citizens showing what they want their government to do for them," said Caleb Brown, one of the people who was able to get the measure on the ballot. "People care about cannabis reform in general and that we want, not just our general local laws, but also our state laws and our national laws to change."

The ordinance change could get tricky on Ohio University's campus since that's state-owned property and campus police follow state law. Meek said that could create confusion since getting caught with marijuana on campus could lead to a different penalty than getting caught with it across the street off-campus. Either way, it would still go on someone's criminal record they were convicted of a drug offense.

"That doesn't change just because this municipal ordinance lessens the penalty," Meek said. "It's still a drug offense. It's still a drug conviction and it would still have that same consequence of being ineligible for federal financial aid."

Meek said Ohio University Police write hundreds of citations for marijuana possession but Athens Police, whom the ordinance would affect, only wrote six last year.

"They don't seek it out," she said. "There are way more important things than busting someone for marijuana."

Early voting has already started. Election Day will be November 7th.

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