Kent City Council opts for November marijuana vote, anticipating better turnout than May

Marijuana advocates drove around asking Portage County residents to sign their petition to decriminalize possession. Asha Blake/The Portager.

Kent voters will get to decide on the November ballot whether to eliminate criminal penalties for possessing small quantities of marijuana within the city. 

The proposed change, officially called the “Sensible Marihuana Ordinance,” rose from a petition organized by the group Sensible Kent to put the new legislation to a referendum. On Wednesday night, Kent City Council authorized sending the measure to the Portage County Board of Elections, which must present the question to voters within the next year.

The council members could have pushed for the issue to be put on the May ballot, but the motion was made for it to be presented in November.

The only reason for that decision came from council member at-large Gwen Rosenberg.

“I just think it’s a good way to get the young people out to the ballot box,” she said.

The legislation would apply to illegal possession or cultivation of marijuana in a quantity below 200 grams, and for possession of marijuana concentrates in a quantity up to 10 grams. It also applies to the production, use and sale of marijuana paraphernalia.

A person caught with marijuana in Kent could still be charged and convicted with a misdemeanor drug offense, but they could not be sentenced to jail time or financial penalties.

“This is not to decriminalize [marijuana],” said Hope Jones, the city’s law director, clarifying that the proposal would not make marijuana possession illegal — only removing the penalties. “If someone were sent to court [for possession], the judge would not be able to give them a fine or court costs.”

The Kent city charter requires that a successful petition either be voted on by the council, or sent to the voters. Jones, putting the issue before city council, recommended that members put it to voters.

The petition needed to garner at least 806 valid signatures to go before city council, a number that represents 10% of the Kent voters who participated in the last gubernatorial election. It received 815.

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Owen MacMillan is a reporter with the Collaborative News Lab @ Kent State University, producing local news coverage in partnership with The Portager.