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Bellaire Police Chief: New Village Law Won’t Stop Arrests

Bellaire Officers Usually Cite Drug Offenders Under County Statutes

Photo by Joselyn King
Bellaire Police Chief Michael Kovalyk examines the drug dropoff box outside the police station at the village’s municipal building.

BELLAIRE — Police Chief Michael Kovalyk says drug dealers shouldn’t seize on the opportunity to come set up shop in Bellaire just because village voters last week narrowly passed a measure decriminalizing marijuana use in Bellaire.

He promised police will continue to arrest marijuana offenders under the same state and county laws they always have, as only village code is affected by the issue approved in Tuesday’s general election.

Bellaire officers typically cite drug offenders under county law, according to Kovalyk. He explained police file the charges this way because if the offender were cited in mayor’s court under village law and jail time resulted, the village would be responsible for the cost of incarcerating the offender at the Belmont County Jail.

Under county law, that is not the case.

The bottom line is it is illegal in the state of Ohio to possess marijuana, and Bellaire police intend to enforce state law, according to Kovalyk.

“If you come to Bellaire and think you won’t get fined or penalized for having marijuana, you’re wrong,” he said. “Having it is illegal, and it will be confiscated. You will be cited into county court. The marijuana initiative is out the door. All this did was tell people to come to Bellaire and deal your marijuana. It encourages drug dealers.”

Kovalyk is concerned residents may now approach these dealers seeking marijuana, and find other, more dangerous drugs also available to them.

“It entices them to bring pills, heroin and cocaine into the city,” he said. “They can say all they want that marijuana is not addictive — that’s a matter of opinion. You can take all the surveys you want — it still entices people to do other drugs.”

Ohio lawmakers this year passed legislation that did make prescribed medical marijuana use legal in the state.

“If you tell me it’s medical marijuana, it better say so on the bottle, or you better have documentation that it has come from a pharmacy,” Kovalyk said.

Registered voters in Bellaire last Tuesday passed the marijuana decriminalization measure by just nine votes, with 682 voting in favor and 673 against, according to unofficial returns.

Proposed by the group Sensible Bellaire, the measure as crafted eliminates criminal punishment for those within village limits found having less than 200 grams of marijuana in their possession. It would remove all jail time, fines and drivers’ license suspensions for minor marijuana violations, forbid any marijuana violation from being reported to any professional licensing board or agency and also prohibit civil or criminal asset forfeiture as a consequence of any marijuana-related infraction.

Similar measures passed this week in three other Ohio communities — Newark in Licking County, Logan in Hocking County and in Roseville, on the border of Perry and Muskingum counties. The marijuana initiative on the ballot in Byesville in Guernsey County failed.

Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, said the measures approved would pertain only to misdemeanor marijuana offenses. The possession of larger amounts of marijuana or trafficking is considered a felony under state law, and state law supersedes any local ordinance.

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