Monday, April 17, 2006

Activist sues to block pot law

Cincinnati Enquirer

Nate Livingston is ready to fight for his right to party.

An outspoken and controversial community activist, Livingston and attorney Ken Lawson filed a lawsuit Friday in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court challenging the constitutionality of a new Cincinnati law that criminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The law, passed in March, allows for the arrest of people found in possession of 100 grams - 3.5 ounces - or less. Before council's action, the city followed state law, which says such possession is a minor misdemeanor that brings a ticket and nothing else.

Now a fourth-degree misdemeanor, people convicted of possession face up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. Conviction of a second offense is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The law will expire after one year, unless a majority of council votes to extend it.

"Since the state does not criminalize the smoking of marijuana, the city has saw fit to criminalize the conduct of plaintiff (Livingston) and others who, after a stressful day of work or community activism, appreciate taking a toke off a joint containing marijuana such as Columbian Gold," the lawsuit says.

Lawson admits he had some fun writing the lawsuit, but said it's serious.
The city's law is unjust, he said, because it violates equal protection under the law, making it unconstitutional.

"Two citizens in the same state can engage in the same conduct, and one is labeled a criminal and one is not," Lawson said.

City council passed the law by a 6-2 vote. Council member Jeff Berding was absent. Cecil Thomas, a council member and former police officer, wrote and promoted the law. He said he isn't surprised by the suit, and said the city's law department signed off on the law as constitutional before passage.

Thomas said the law is needed to bring heat down on the city's open-air drug markets, and said it can be used to get guns and more serious drugs off the streets because police will have broader powers to search individuals.

"Anybody can challenge it," Thomas said. "But it's based on sound legal, legislative" principles.

By Dan Klepal


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