In tow with Connecticut’s recent expungement of more than 40,000 cannabis-related convictions, Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ringing in the new year with a similar focus. The governor signed a major criminal justice reform bill, which will let cities facilitate mass expungements for people with certain drug-related convictions, including cannabis possession up to 200 grams, first reported by Marijuana Moment.
DeWine signed the legislation from Senator Nathan Manning (R) on Tuesday. It will also project people from getting criminal records due to cannabis paraphernalia possession. It also covers sentencing reform for people in prison, along with broader criminal records sealing and expungements.
“This bill will improve public safety for all Ohioans, while ensuring that people in prison have the tools they need to succeed and give back to their communities when they return home,” Manning said in a press release after the Senate initially passed the legislation.
Many of the bill’s key provisions came after Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb (D) tried to facilitate several thousand expungements for Ohioans with cannabis possession convictions, only to be told by state officials that localities cannot exercise that authority. The mayor then worked with Manning to resolve the issue, ultimately allowing leaders across the state to make similar moves.
“My administration committed early on to help remove the barrier of low-level marijuana convictions for people seeking opportunities at work or school,” Bibb said in a tweet announcing the signing of the bill. “SB 288 gets us there, and it shows how cities and the General Assembly can work together to address all Ohioans’ challenges.”
With the new bill passed, county prosecutors and city law directors can now apply for expungements for fourth degree or minor misdemeanor drug offenses on behalf of Ohio citizens. The legislation also notes that misdemeanor cannabis paraphernalia possession cases wouldn’t constitute a criminal record and would not need disclosure in response to inquiries about a person’s criminal record.
The bill was passed with overwhelming support in the Ohio legislature’s lame duck session in December. Applications for expungement would be valid six months after the final action of a minor misdemeanor.
Speaking with Cleveland.com, Manning compared the new structure to a traffic ticket being sealed or expunged, adding, “There are no victims. But because this is a drug offense, it has been this major barrier on employment and other things.”
DeWine steered away from discussing the cannabis-focused elements of the bill in a press release about signing it into law. Instead, he focused on the bill’s strengthening of Ohio laws related to the use of cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. DeWine did say that the measure, in general, helps to ensure “Ohio law reflects modern realities.”The law is set to take effect 90 days from the signing, and Bibb also said he would move quickly to take advantage of the new clemency in Cleveland once it happens.
Advocates largely welcomed the legislation, though many also voiced support for broader reform. The state’s medical program was created in 2016—and a 2022 report showed record-high patient satisfaction with the program—but recreational cannabis is still illegal in Ohio.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) are working to make legal recreational cannabis in the state a reality, though the campaign ultimately had to push its reform proposal to this year at the earliest after attempting to put it on the ballot last year due to complications.
It appears that Ohioans support the move. A 2022 Spectrum News/Siena College Research Institute poll found that a majority of Ohioans support legalizing recreational cannabis, with residents 35 to 49 showing the most interest in reform. Democrats and Independents were also most supportive by political party, with 79% and 61% respectively showing approval, while 40% of Republicans supported legalization.