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Medical Marijuana Laws in Ohio: Interpreting the Legislation


When house Bill 523 went into effect on September 8th, 2016, Ohio adopted new laws and regulations that legalized medical marijuana under particular circumstances. Despite the months that have passed, many people throughout the state do not have a clear picture of what was made legal and what remains illegal. This is certainly due in no small part to the nature and language of legislation in general.

To try to remove some of the fog and uncertainty surrounding House Bill 523, Ohio Criminal Defense Attorney Ian N. Friedman, along with Attorney Tom Haren, drafted and published an article regarding the law. We will summarize his explanation here for brevity. If you want to read the full article, you can click here to access the PDF file.

Important Legal Basics

  • Approved Ohio citizens cannot possess medical marijuana in any amount in excess of a 90 day supply.
  • Smoking medical marijuana is still strictly prohibited.
  • THC content is limited to 30% in plant material and 70% in extracts and tinctures.
  • Edible medical marijuana products cannot be packaged in a way that would reasonably entice a child into eating it.
  • In-home and private cultivation methods are still illegal.

Medical Marijuana Licenses

  • Cultivators must obtain an official license to grow marijuana plants for medical use.
  • Processors need a license to extract oils and create final products.
  • Retail dispensaries without a license cannot sell medical marijuana to any patient.
  • Laboratories must be licensed in order to test medical marijuana products for safety and compliance.
  • The number of licenses provided throughout the state should make it reasonable for a patient to obtain medical marijuana no matter where he or she lives.

State Medical Board Certified Physician Responsibilities

  • Ohio patient applications for medical marijuana must be created by a physician with an established physician-patient relationship.
  • Acting physicians must diagnose the patient with at least one of the 20 approved conditions to request medical marijuana.
  • Patient health history from the last 12 months is reviewed by the physician.
  • Patients are warned of potential risks of using medical marijuana.
  • Physician has explained to the patient that the benefits of medical marijuana should predictably outweigh any potential risks.

Can Attorneys Represent Medical Marijuana License Holders?

Within House Bill 523, there is language that states an attorney cannot be legally penalized just for participating to any extent within the medical marijuana industry, such as representing or counseling a client working within this new field. The Ohio Supreme Court actually has a final say in attorney discipline, though. This conflicting language has raised some concern among Ohio lawyers.

According to the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer cannot advise a client to engage in illegal conduct. Even though Ohio has legalized medical marijuana on its state level, it still remains a crime due to federal regulations, most notably the Controlled Substances Act. While many states have sided with state-level laws and attorneys, some have not, and the future of Ohio lawyers being able to represent medical marijuana professionals is still up in the air.

Medical Marijuana Laws in View of the Federal Government

Aware of the contradiction between state-level laws and the Controlled Substance Act, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has promised to take a “hands-off” approach when enforcing or overseeing medical marijuana laws and markets in states that have legalized the substance. It is important to note that there is no binding, legal, or official nature to this promise. Given the right motivation or change in leadership, the Department of Justice could decide to heavily crackdown on medical marijuana laws across the country.

The DOJ expects states with legal medical marijuana programs to:

  • Prohibit and prevent any and all marijuana, legal or illegal, distribution to minors or individuals in other states.
  • Ensure any profits gained through the medical marijuana market of the state does not go to known criminal organizations.
  • Take steps to be certain medical marijuana industries do not become a front for other illegal activities, such as drug trafficking.
  • Stop marijuana cultivation- and distribution-related violence.
  • Make a satisfactory effort to prevent drugged or impaired driving.
  • Cull any marijuana cultivation that would occur on public lands.
  • Prevent marijuana of any sort from being used or simply possessed on federal property.

Legal Counsel for Ohio Drug Crime Charges

While few would argue that House Bill 523 has not moved medical marijuana laws drastically forward in Ohio, it is not perfect. As our summary has shown and concluded, there are holes and gray areas within the legislation. To this end, people within the medical marijuana industry, patients using the products, or physicians prescribing it could all inadvertently wind up in serious legal trouble.

Ian N. Friedman and our entire team of Ohio criminal defense attorneys can protect your rights if you have been accused of or charged with a drug crime. Led by an attorney with years of experience and numerous professional recognitions, we have the know-how and knowledge needed to manage your case. Call toll-free 888.694.4645, or fill out an online contact form, to connect with our firm.