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6 MYTHS ABOUT LEGAL MARIJUANA USE IN OHIO

Marijuana is now legally approved in Ohio for medicinal purposes. But are you aware of the consequences of using marijuana outside of its approved forms? Read about these six common myths that get can get you into trouble with marijuana in Ohio.

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MYTH #1:  POLICE HAVE STOPPED ARRESTING PEOPLE FOR USING POT IN OHIO.

I so often hear people talking about pot as if its casual and recreational use is no longer treated as illegal in the state of Ohio. But while a regulated use of marijuana for medicinal purposes still continues its rollout in this state, marijuana for recreational use remains illegal. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reporting Program, some 15,000 - 17,000 arrests are made annually on marijuana possession charges in Ohio.

Towns and cities in the vicinity of college campuses are often on the lookout for students and others who may be in possession of marijuana. College students are the most likely demographic to walk into my office after having been arrested for marijuana possession or marijuana OVI. These arrests often occur as a result of traffic stops. Police officers will often take a quick look into your car to see if there is any visible sign of marijuana, marijuana paraphernalia, or odor of marijuana. An arrest for marijuana possession will be made for even the smallest amount of marijuana found on your person or in your vehicle.

So remember, the police are still on the lookout for drivers, for students at parties, and others who may possess marijuana. Although the consequences for possessing relatively small amounts of the drug may be rather light, arrests are still frequently made, and Ohio law enforcement has in no way decided to cease making arrests for marijuana possession.

On the other hand, I often hear it said that "Jails are full of people whose only offense is smoking a little weed." That is a bit of an exaggeration. The state of Ohio "decriminalized" pot use in 1975. Although still illegal, pot possession in small amounts will not result in jail time or a lasting criminal record. Mere possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana is a "minor misdemeanor," the lowest misdemeanor offense, for which the punishment and lasting effects on your record are somewhat akin to a traffic offense. 

Possession of larger amounts of marijuana can raise the suspicion of marijuana drug trafficking and carry harsher fines and penalties. In Ohio law, an act that involves a "gift" of marijuana (transferring marijuana to another person) can result in a drug trafficking charge. A first offense 20 grams or less is charged as a minor misdemeanor. Subsequent offenses, or offenses committed near a school or in the presence of minors are charged as misdemeanors of the third degree, carrying a maximum penalty of $500 fine and/or 60 days in jail.

MYTH #2: YOU CAN'T GET HIGH ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Substances approved for medical marijuana actually contain larger amounts of THC than is typically found in recreational marijuana products. Tier 1 medical marijuana contains up to 23% THC, and Tier 2 medical marijuana contains up to 35% THC. Recreational pot products typically contain around 10% THC. So, while it may be true that medical marijuana users are not using the drug for the purpose of obtaining a "high," users need to know that medical marijuana produces the same, if not stronger, psychoactive effects as recreational marijuana.

MYTH #3: OHIOANS CAN LEGALLY SMOKE WEED FOR RELIEF OF MEDICAL CONDITIONS

Marijuana is usually thought of as a drug that is smoked. However, smoking marijuana remains illegal even with the implementation of the medical marijuana program. Certified physicians will can prescribe marijuana as oils, tinctures, capsules, other edible forms that can be taken orally; patches for the administration of creams and ointments; metered oil or plant material that can be administered through a vaporizing device. However, no vaping device that allows for direct contact of the medical marijuana with its heating element can be used for the vaporization of plant resin or its extracts.

MYTH #4: YOUR FAMILY DOCTOR CAN ALWAYS PRESCRIBE A LITTLE DOOBIE IF YOU JUST ASK

Many people are under the impression that their local family doctor will automatically have the ability to prescribe marijuana as they would any other medication. However, doctors who want to recommend patients for marijuana treatment are required to take an approved training course and apply for certification from the Ohio Medical Board. Your nearest marijuana-approved doctor may not be conveniently located to your home.

Prior to using marijuana for medicinal purposes, patients must establish a relationship with a physician who is certified by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy to recommend marijuana as medical treatment. The physician can recommend any qualifying patient and submit a patient registration application with the Ohio Medical Board. The patient can then apply online for a medical marijuana card, and pay the associated fee. Possession of the card will allow patients to obtain and possess marijuana legally.

MYTH #5: EMPLOYERS CANNOT DRUG TEST YOU FOR MJ IF YOU HAVE A MEDICAL MARIJUANA CARD

The Ohio Code is clear that the medical marijuana law will not affect how employers choose to establish drug use and testing policies for their employees. Some employers are required by Federal law to retain a drug-free zone at their workplaces. All employers, state, federal, and private, will retain the right to test their employees for marijuana use, and to retain policies that fire, discipline, or refuse to hire individuals who have been using marijuana and fail employer drug tests.

MYTH #6: HAVING A MEDICAL MARIJUANA CARD MEANS YOU CAN'T BE CHARGED WITH MARIJUANA OVI

Marijuana OVI laws still apply for Ohio drivers.  You still cannot legally operate a motor vehicle if your system contains an excess of the legal limit for the marijuana. Additionally, you can not drive while impaired by the drug regardless of how much marijuana or marijuana metabolite is in your system. (For further explanation of the marijuana OVI law, see my blog article, Driving Stoned: Marijuana DUI-OVI in Ohio.) If at any time you are stopped, and the police officer smells marijuana or finds marijuana in your vehicle, there is a good chance you will be charged with OVI and asked to submit a blood or urine sample for drug testing. Having a medical marijuana card does not provide a defense against an OVI/DUI charge. Medical Marijuana users cannot operate a motor vehicle while impaired or over the legal limit for marijuana.

There is currently no approved "breathalyzer" in use by Ohio law enforcement for evaluating the level of impairment from marijuana use.

The only approved tests for marijuana impairment are blood and urine tests. While the test for blood alcohol content (BAC) is measured in percentage of alcohol by weight or volume, the tests for blood drug content is measured in nanograms per milliliter of blood or urine. A nanogram is one billionth of a gram.

A person whose blood or urine shows marijuana content over the legal limit might not exhibit obvious outward signs of impairment. An officer's suspicions may still be raised by an odor of marijuana, observation of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia in the vehicle or on the driver's person. In such cases, the officer will likely order a blood or urine test for the driver, even if the driver's outward behavior is perfectly normal. This presents a challenge for medical marijuana users who will likely have an amount of marijuana or marijuana metabolite in the blood or urine if they have been regularly or recently using the drug. Even drivers who used the drug several days prior to a traffic stop may show a blood or urine content in excess of the legal limit.

CONCLUSION:

Don't be fooled by the myths.  Know the marijuana laws in Ohio before deciding to use marijuana, and be sure your use is legal. Also, know the legal limitations on the use of medical marijuana. 

Here is a summary of the myths dispelled:

1. Police still make arrests in Ohio for pot possession and marijuana trafficking.

2. Medical marijuana contains a potent level of THC and can get you high or legally impaired for driving purposes.

3. Smoking pot is still illegal.  Approved medical marijuana forms do not included smoking the drug.

4. You must establish a patient relationship with a state-certified marijuana physician and obtain a medical marijuana card before you can legally use pot for medicinal purposes.

5. Employers can still test you for marijuana and take adverse action against you for failing the test.

6.  Don't get behind the wheel if you have been using marijuana in any form.  You can still be charged with OVI even if you have a medical card.

If you find yourself charged with marijuana possession, trafficking, or OVI, don't hesitate to give us a call. Our attorneys will assure that your rights are protected through any police investigation or Court proceeding. We can advise you on how to obtain the best result for any charges brought against you.

In Lebanon, Warren County, Butler County, Clinton County and Clermont County, and surrounding Ohio counties, call our Lebanon office at (513) 932-5529.

In Montgomery County, Greene County and surrounding counties, call our Beavercreek Office at (937) 306-6402.

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