Bellaire voters approve measure decriminalizing marijuana

T-L Photo/SHELLEY HANSON BELLAIRE POLICE Chief Mike Kovalyk reads election results on a TV screen inside the Belmont County Board of Elections on Tuesday. A marijuana-related petition in the village passed 682 to 673, according to unofficial vote totals.

BELLAIRE — Bill Schmitt Jr. said he smokes marijuana to deal with pain because he doesn’t believe in taking opioids. Tuesday, village residents voted to decriminalize this practice, as long as Schmitt and others hold less than 200 grams of cannabis.

“Yes, sir. Oh, man,” Schmitt said late Tuesday after learning that residents had approved his measure to decriminalize marijuana in Bellaire by a narrow vote of 682-673, according to unofficial results.

“My thoughts are that I am very happy for the citizens of Bellaire to be able to stand up to be progressive. This is about fighting the opioid epidemic in the area. Now, our police officers can fight real crime,” Schmitt said.

This year, Schmitt started an organization on social media called “Sensible Bellaire.” He previously worked with Responsible Ohio and has served as southeast director for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana. The group disbanded after Ohio lawmakers approved legislation permitting the use of medical marijuana in the state. He said he is now helping to organize marijuana legalization efforts in such Ohio communities as Newark, Reynoldsburg, Sandusky, Huron, Lorain and Elyria.

According to the Bellaire measure, it eliminates criminal punishment for those within the village limits found having less than 200 grams of marijuana in their possession. It removes all jail time, fines and drivers’ license suspensions for minor marijuana violations, while forbidding any marijuana violation from being reported to any professional licensing board or agency. It also prohibits civil or criminal asset forfeiture as a consequence of any marijuana-related infraction.

“I am very proud of the people of Bellaire to stand up to try something new,” Schmitt said. “I was in a car wreck eight or nine years ago. I try to fight taking opioids. I solely use cannabis as medicine.”

“It should be my right to use marijuana. I don’t want to get addicted to opioids,” he added.

Schmitt acknowledged that marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which makes its possession and use totally illegal under federal law. He does not believe this should be a major problem, however.

“They are not going to have a federal agent come down to arrest people for simple possession or for growing a plant,” Schmitt said.

Bellaire Police Chief Mike Kovalyk could not be reached for comment late Tuesday. However, he previously said he disagreed that decriminalizing marijuana would free up police time and resources for fighting other crimes. He had hoped the measure would fail.

“Instead of wasting your time on me, focus on the real problems in our town,” Schmitt urged Kovalyk.


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