Criminal records haunt job-seekers despite law’s repeal
Time to talk drugs — weed, specifically.
No one wants to be caught with marijuana on his or her person. Every pot-smoking, doobie-lighting, blunt-puffing college stoner lives in fear of the fine and confiscation of his or her precious herb if caught. However, for many people that have been caught with marijuana in the past seven years in the city of Cincinnati, drug use has cost them their ability to earn a respectable living.
In 2006, City Council passed legislation that increased the charge for possession of marijuana from a minor misdemeanor to a fourth-degree misdemeanor. This means that the amount of pot which previously would have resulted in a legal slap on the wrist in the form of a ticket and fine thereafter, for anyone with a previous offense, could result in a lasting criminal record.
In Ohio, a judge can expunge an offense if there are only two misdemeanors on record, and minor misdemeanors do not count. So, although small amounts of marijuana previously didn’t affect your record, after 2006, being caught with a single joint could result in an official, permanent criminal background.
Even City Council acknowledged the extremity of its own law and repealed it in 2010.
However, the criminal records still exist for those unlucky enough to have been caught during the law’s five-year lifespan.
To combat this, on Oct. 13 city councilman Charlie Winburn introduced legislation which would reduce any possession charges resulting from the old law in Cincinnati’s records back to minor misdemeanors.
The reason for this is simple: if the law was absurd and wrong enough to repeal, those unfortunate enough to have lit up in the wrong place in the wrong year should not be barred from work because of a criminal record.
In fact, Winburn makes an excellent point when he says that the continued existence of these charges can only result in more drugs instead of less. Low-income individuals caught with very small amounts of marijuana may now have trouble supporting themselves with legitimate work, as their records are permanently open to background checks and, logically, turn to illegitimate work to support themselves. By punishing these people severely for trace amounts of drugs, the city has encouraged them to obtain large quantities of the same.
Good work, team. This war on drugs has looked more and more like the Herculean struggle against the Hydra.
For this reason, Winburn’s legislation is a necessary first step. It evens a playing field made rocky by unnecessarily severe charges. And, to put a Republican spin on it (as Charlie Winburn is, after all, a Republican), this bill is a jobs bill of sorts.
Cincinnati has a segment of its workforce unable to work due to offenses which were harmless and would now be considered minor. By continuing to ensure that their past toking costs them their livelihood, Cincinnati bolsters its unemployment and limits the mobility of its lower-income residents who are statistically more likely to have previous offenses.
Nothing helps a budding city more than stratifying its communities because of a bit of bud.