Local man working to decriminalize marijuana
BELLAIRE — A village resident who helped get voters to decriminalize marijuana in Bellaire in 2016 is setting his sights on doing the same in other communities across Belmont County.
Bill Schmitt Jr., founder of the Sensible Movement Coalition and user of marijuana for a medical condition, has been holding petition drives in communities across the county for the past couple weeks.
Schmitt has collected signatures from residents in Bridgeport, Martins Ferry — and on Friday planned to do the same in Powhatan Point — on petitions to have the measure placed on those communities’ November general election ballots.
Schmitt said the petition calls not for making marijuana legal, but for removing penalties for those possessing less than 200 grams, or about seven ounces, of marijuana.
“I want to decriminalize cannabis because it allows police to use their time and money on more important issues than simple misdemeanor possession charges. It also treats everyone equally with zero fine for all, so there is no discrimination,” Schmitt said Thursday.
Bellaire’s measure was approved by voters in 2016 in a 682-673 decision.
Bellaire’s police chief at that time, Mike Kovalyk, said people would still be arrested for possession and charged under state law, as usual.
Bellaire officers typically cite drug suspects under state law, he noted at that time.
If the offender were instead cited into mayor’s court under village law and jail time resulted, the village would have to cover the cost of incarcerating the suspect at the Belmont County Jail.
Schmitt believes his measures will help law enforcement instead of hindering it.
“The reasons why I want to do this are the same. I want the police to worry about more important crimes. It helps with racial discrimination when it comes to possession charges, as everyone is treated equally, in a state that has counties that minorities get ticketed 13 times more often,” he said. “This ordinance does not change the law, it changes the penalty for the law. It is still illegal, but there is no penalty. It also removes cannabis paraphernalia penalties as well.”
Schmitt said he is a medical marijuana patient in Ohio because does not believe in using opioid painkillers as his medicine.
He said he does not support decriminalizing other kinds of illegal drugs.
“My mission is to simply give Ohioans in these municipalities a chance to decriminalize cannabis and cannabis only. We are second in the nation, with West Virginia No. 1, in opiate-related deaths across the river, and I plan on giving us a better, safer option,” he said.
Schmitt said his group has had success in decriminalizing marijuana in 22 municipalities in Ohio, including Bellaire, Adena, Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo.
“The last six years we have made the ballot and passed these ordinances, and we also have a statewide House Bill 210 to decriminalize cannabis statewide and give us a 12-plant home grow,” he said.
“I also have initiatives written for Shadyside, St. Clairsville, Brookside, Powhatan Point, Mt. Pleasant, Belmont, Holloway, Tiltonsville, Rayland, Flushing, McMechen and Wheeling as well. We already have Dillonvale and McArthur, Ohio, on the ballot, and just got enough signatures for Martins Ferry, Bridgeport and Powhatan Point as well. I will be turning in these three new ones in about 10 days,” Schmitt said.
In Martins Ferry, Police Chief John McFarland said he was aware of Schmitt and others holding a petition drive at the City Park this past week.
“I’m 100 percent against making marijuana, or any other drug, legal,” McFarland said, adding he disagrees that the measure’s impact only involves taking away the penalties for possession of marijuana.
Recreational use of marijuana on the state and federal levels still is illegal.
Schmitt describes marijuana as “a safe, non-toxic medicine” and alternative to opioids. But much like tobacco smoke, marijuana can have a detrimental effect on lung health, according to the American Lung Association.
“Due to the risks it poses to lung health, the American Lung Association strongly cautions the public against smoking marijuana as well as tobacco products,” the ALA states on its website.
The ALA also notes more scientific studies are needed on the impacts of marijuana on the lungs and the body in general.
“The health effects of marijuana are determined in large part by how it’s consumed. Marijuana is most commonly smoked using pipes, bongs, paper-wrapped joints, blunts and other devices including those that heat or vaporize marijuana. Marijuana can also be consumed through dozens of different products including e-cigarettes, candy, brownies and other baked goods, capsules, beverages and many more,” according to the ALA.
“While this statement focuses on marijuana and lung health, it’s important to note that there are other health concerns outside the lungs attributed to marijuana use that are not addressed here, including neurological and cognitive effects.
“Additionally, there are significant public health concerns associated with pediatric poisonings caused by accidental ingestion of edible marijuana products.”
Neither Belmont County Sheriff Dave Lucas nor Bridgeport Police Chief John Bumba could be reached for comment on this report.