U.S. News

Ohio sues Toledo over marijuana decriminalization ordinance

(This October 6 story has been corrected in third paragraph to say Toledo is in northwestern Ohio)

(Reuters) - The state of Ohio sued the city of Toledo on Tuesday to overturn parts of its new marijuana decriminalization law, alleging it will encourage drug cartels to set up distribution operations in the city.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the Lucas County prosecutor and sheriff filed the lawsuit in Lucas County Common Pleas court against the “Sensible Marijuana Ordinance” passed in last month’s Toledo municipal election.

The ordinance eliminated fine and jail penalties for marijuana-related offenses in Ohio’s fourth-largest city, according to DeWine. The northwestern Ohio city was the first in the state to enact a local ordinance decriminalizing marijuana.

The lawsuit objects to four provisions of the ordinance as unconstitutionally conflicting with Ohio general laws, including a “gag-rule” which prohibits Toledo Police from reporting marijuana crimes to authorities other than the city attorney.

It also protests provisions that make felony marijuana possession and trafficking a “negligible” municipal offense, and decriminalizes possession of certain other drugs, including morphine and hydrocodone, according to the attorney general’s office.

“Absent legal action, it is not hard to imagine international drug rings making Toledo their regional base of operations,” DeWine said.

A representative for the city of Toledo was not immediately available for comment.

DeWine noted the recent arrest by the Ohio State Highway Patrol of two Washington residents in Lucas County with 223 pounds of marijuana. DeWine said that under Ohio law, they face up to 16 years in prison, but under the Toledo ordinance would not serve prison time.

Other cities with marijuana decriminalization laws include Chicago and Philadelphia. The state of Ohio as a whole will vote on whether to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use in November.

About half of U.S. states allow marijuana for medical use. It is legal for recreational use in Oregon, Colorado, Washington state and Washington, D.C.

Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Mohammad Zargham