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After Serial Episodes, Euclid Reduces Marijuana Penalties

Euclid's police station. [Annie Wu / ideastream]
Euclid's police station.

Starting in January, people caught in Euclid with small amounts of marijuana will no longer be looking at six months in jail—and they have the podcast Serial to thank.

The city is reclassifying low-level marijuana possession as a minor misdemeanor, which carries a maximum fine of $150.

Council’s safety committee chair said members voted to reduce the city’s penalties after Serial pointed out that Euclid’s marijuana laws were stiffer than most in Cuyahoga County.

“A lot of times people don’t realize—they think that with a lot of municipalities being a little more lenient, that it also applies to Euclid. And it did not,” Councilwoman Stephana Caviness said. “And maybe that causes incidents to occur that we could sometimes avoid.”

That was the case with Erimius Spencer, a Euclid man profiled by Serial this year.

Spencer sued the city in late 2017, alleging that two off-duty officers kicked and tased him in a hallway of his apartment building. The police said they had found a small amount of marijuana in his pocket.

Spencer told the podcast he believed that marijuana possession should have only resulted in a citation. In fact, it was a more serious misdemeanor in Euclid.

The case was settled in September.  

Caviness said members drafted the revised ordinance after talking about the podcast.

“We said, we need at least to align ourselves with Ohio Revised Code and align ourselves with the other municipalities in Cuyahoga County. And that’s how it all began,” she said. “So it began with the Serial podcast.”

Euclid’s marijuana ordinance dates back to 1998, when the city made possession a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable with a $1,000 fine and 180-day jail sentence.

“That was 20 years ago,” Caviness said. “Things have changed tremendously, and they’re continuing to change.”

On Dec. 3, council voted 8-0 in favor of the revised ordinance, which will go into effect Jan. 2.

The change will put Euclid’s code in line with the state’s. As with state law, there are steeper penalties for larger amounts. Possessing 100 grams or more of marijuana is a fourth-degree misdemeanor, and possession of 200 or more grams is a fifth-degree felony.

Read the ordinance below. Mobile users can read here. 


Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.