- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio lawmakers are taking early steps toward lifting Ohio’s driving penalties for marijuana possession.

A resolution up for a committee vote Tuesday declares the Legislature’s opposition to a 1990 federal law that requires a six-month suspension or revocation of a driver’s license after a drug offense conviction. That’s the case even when the violation is a misdemeanor unrelated to driving, such as being caught with a small amount of marijuana.

Passage of the resolution is the ammunition Gov. John Kasich needs to request federal clearance for Ohio to opt out of the law, as all but 16 states have already done. Follow-up legislation would be introduced once federal approval is granted to change Ohio’s possession law.

Sponsoring state Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, testified that the U.S. Secretary of Transportation is required under what’s called the Drug Offender’s Driving Privileges Suspension Act to withhold 8 percent of Ohio’s highway-related funds - unless the state enforces the law or its governor submits written certifications that he and the state Legislature both are opposed to it.

Seitz, who testifies again Tuesday, noted that the Kasich administration signaled interest in erasing the driving penalties for pot possession under an earlier collateral sanctions bill.



“They and I recognize that the automatic suspension of driving privileges for conduct having nothing to do with driving or proof of financial responsibility is a form of collateral sanction that leads to more joblessness, more driving under suspension, and more incarceration, and has led to scant impact on reducing the use of drugs,” he said. “It is just the sort of kneejerk, feel-good policy we have come to expect from the federal government, which cannot put its own house in order but gladly tries to interfere with the states’ own prerogatives.”

Versions of the Ohio resolution have already cleared both chambers of the Legislature by wide, bipartisan margins. This week’s House action is needed to unify separate proposals, one that cleared the Ohio House 92-0 in November, and another that cleared the Ohio Senate 27-5 earlier this month. Earlier Legislatures mistakenly thought the opt-out window had passed and did not act.

Seitz said the Ohio Judicial Conference also supports the resolution.

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