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TACO passed, but what does that mean?

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The Athens Cannabis Ordinance, or TACO, passed during Tuesday's election by a wide margin. Photo via Public Domain Photos.

The Athens Cannabis Ordinance, or TACO, passed during Tuesday’s election by a wide margin. As with any law or ordinance concerning cannabis in Ohio, it can be confusing. Let’s break it down.  

What does TACO actually do?

TACO is an ordinance that eliminates the penalty fine for marijuana misdemeanors of up to 200 grams worth of possession or cultivation within Athens city limits. It also allows residents to have up to ten grams of hash with a maximum fine of $1.

Yes, this means that marijuana is still illegal in Athens. Activists in favor of TACO argue that marijuana depenalization in Athens will incentivize law enforcement to place less priority on the punishment of marijuana misdemeanors and instead focus on more violent crime.

WATCH: Here’s what you need to know about TACO

But how does TACO work?

TACO was able to manipulate Amendment XVIII, Section 3 of the Ohio State Constitution, which allows municipalities to make their own police regulations.  

An example of this would be the fact that municipalities are allowed to raise or lower the fine for traffic violations in their municipality. This same concept also allows municipalities to reduce the fines for marijuana misdemeanors.  

This is only possible because Ohio decriminalized marijuana, meaning that it is no longer a felony sentencing.  


Is this ordinance the first of its kind?

In 2015, the city of Toledo depenalized marijuana, becoming the first municipality in Ohio to do so. The depenalization is a sharp difference from the $150 misdemeanor fine that follows an Ohio law code marijuana violation.

Last year, four municipalitiesNewark, Logan, Roseville and Bellaire — all passed similar legislation that depenalizes marijuana within municipality limits.  

The devil’s (lettuce) is in the details.

  • According to Athens City Prosecutor Tracy Meek, the Ohio University Police Department is bound to uphold state law code, not municipal law code. This means that any marijuana misdemeanor citations by OUPD are filed under state code, and therefore circumvent TACO entirely.   
  • Furthermore, recently elected City Council Member Sarah Grace also came out in opposition of TACO, claiming that in 2016-2017, only five marijuana cases in Athens were charged through Athens municipal court under Athens city code.  She also noted that Athens city code is the only thing that TACO affects, meaning that TACO has limited effectiveness as a city ordinance, especially because most drug violation charges occur on campus.  
  • Ohio U school policy is treated differently than Athens law enforcement. That means that people who smoke marijuana on Ohio U’s campus are not protected by TACO. It would require the university to update its policy in order for this to change.
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