Jan 9, 2023 - News

Bibb prevails on marijuana legislation

City Council President Blaine Griffin (L) and Mayor Justin Bibb (R) outside the Justice Center in April. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

Mayor Justin Bibb has a new policy victory to celebrate.

Driving the news: Gov. Mike DeWine has signed legislation to empower cities and county prosecutors to expunge low-level marijuana convictions.

  • The legislation, an amendment to a sweeping criminal justice reform bill, was the result of lobbying efforts by Bibb and state Sen. Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville).

The intrigue: Manning's wife is one of Bibb's spin class instructors and made what proved to be a fruitful introduction at a wedding in 2021, Bibb tells Axios.

Why it matters: Bibb has championed marijuana expungements since his early days in office. In April, he and City Council president Blaine Griffin attempted to expunge more than 4,000 convictions en masse but were stymied by state law.

  • Only individuals were permitted to initiate the process of sealing or expunging their cases. The new legislation enables government entities to do so on individuals' behalf.
  • Manning, from Lorain County, was the lead sponsor on the reform bill. He had been tracking Cleveland's expungement attempts, Bibb says, and offered to collaborate on a "statewide policy fix."

What they're saying: Bibb tells Axios that he persisted in seeking expungements for multiple reasons.

  • "Growing up in this city, I ran into so many people — friends, family members — who had these low-level convictions that created barriers," he says, "barriers to getting a loan, starting a business, going back to school, getting financial aid, access to quality housing."

What's next: The legislation takes effect in early April.

  • City of Cleveland law director Mark Griffin tells Axios that his department will coordinate with the clerk of courts and Cuyahoga County prosecutor Mike O'Malley to determine the most efficient way to analyze cases and submit paperwork.
  • "Our goal is to help as many people as possible as quickly as possible," he says.

Meanwhile, Bibb plans to court the Ohio Mayors Alliance to get big-city mayors statewide to join Cleveland in the initiative.

  • As in the Ohio legislature, where the reform bill passed overwhelmingly, Bibb said he expects bipartisan support.
  • "I think Republicans recognize the economic consequences," he tells Axios. "If folks can't get a job or start a business, it doesn't make us a competitive state long-term."

The bottom line: Bibb sees this victory as emblematic of his 2021 election victory.

  • "We haven't had bold policy ideas coming out of Cleveland in a long time," he says. "That needs to change."

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