I’ve lived my entire 39 years of life in the Cincinnati, Ohio area, mostly across the river from the city in Northern Kentucky. Like every large city, Cincinnati has many towns within it and many suburbs surrounding it. I’ve spent time in a lot of those towns, but few were the setting of as many of my good memories as Norwood, Ohio.
From the fall of 1997 to the fall of 1999, I spent the majority of my time every week in Norwood, splitting said time between going to school at ITT Technical Institute and getting an Associate’s Degree in Electronic Engineering and smoking marijuana with a group of guys I met at the school at one of their houses in Norwood. It’s safe to say that I’ve spent more time in Norwood than any other Ohio town, by a longshot.
All of this was before my turn to writing and cannabis activism; back then, I thought I was going to be some sort of electronics guy and using cannabis was something I did for fun and to help settle a nervous stomach problem I had in the mornings.
I was 19 when I graduated from ITT and over the next few months of 1999, my trips to Norwood became less frequent. As often happens, I eventually lost touch with the people I hung out with in college and all of us went on with our very different lives.
A lot of things have changed since then, both for myself and for Norwood. I became a writer and eventually my focus moved from fiction to the world of cannabis activism. Norwood has grown considerably in the intervening years, and marijuana law reform itself has gone from a fringe issue to a mainstream inevitability.
Now Norwood’s growth and marijuana law reform are converging in the form of a city-wide ordinance that will be on the ballot this November. If passed, the measure would eliminate fines and jail time for anyone found possessing 200 grams or less of marijuana.
“We made our first attempt at ballot in 2016 with the ‘Norwood Sensible Marihuana Ordinance,’” Amy Wolfinbarger, the founder of Sensible Norwood, told The Marijuana Times about the history of this year’s ordinance. “We were kept off the ballot in 2016 due to the actions of the Hamilton County Board of Elections. We took them before the Ohio Supreme Court who ruled in favor of Hamilton County BOE. The ruling gave the BOE’s so-called gatekeeper abilities which allowed County BOEs to keep initiatives like ours from the ballot based on content. This ruling was since overturned and found to be unconstitutional. In January of 2018, we reviewed and rewrote our language. I removed all felony level possession charges and renamed the ordinance ‘The Norwood Cannabis Ordinance.’ We needed 386 signatures to make ballot and obtained 646 signatures from Norwood voters in under 2 months. We also registered over 70 new voters.”
Despite the success of the group in getting the ordinance on the ballot, not everyone was impressed. “This (ballot issue) deals with Norwood’s codified ordinance and doesn’t have anything to do with state law,” said Norwood Police Chief William Kramer. “We really wouldn’t change how we do things. We would simply, from the very beginning, charge them under state code.” In practice, this could mean someone possessing 100 to 200 grams of cannabis could still see some jail time.
“The response from law enforcement is typical and one that was expected. We have every confidence that our law department will properly educate our police on the new law,” Amy told us. “Once passed it is set to go into effect after 5 days. We have worked really hard to keep an open dialogue with the law department as well as city council. We have also reached out and spoken with the police chief. We don’t expect any problems with being challenged by the city or state. The Toledo law was challenged after passage in 2015. The Ohio Supreme Court allowed the misdemeanor portion of the bill to go into effect. The Toledo law is in effect to this day and is working fine.”
With less than 2 months to go before the ordinance is voted on, the wait won’t be long before we find out how the people of Norwood feel about the issue. Amy says the feedback she has received not only shows displeasure with the police chief’s seeming dismissal of Sensible Norwood’s efforts, but a broad understanding of the medicinal need of cannabis as well as a need to address the opioid crisis that is hitting Norwood especially hard, leading to a theft rate that is “much higher than the national average.”
My affinity for Norwood and my affinity for lessening potential repercussions for marijuana possession both mean I’m rooting for the ordinance to pass. If you live in Norwood, Ohio or know someone who does, time is running out to spread the word about the vote on November 6th.