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What You Need to Know About Medical Marijuana Laws in Ohio

January 2019 saw the arrival of Ohio’s long-delayed medical marijuana program. Passed under House Bill 523 in 2016, the program was slated by statute to be fully operational by September of 2018, but regulatory red tape and a number of bureaucratic, licensing, and procedural hurdles delayed actual sales of medicinal cannabis until the beginning of 2019.

Though HB 523 has been in effect since September of 2016, the regulatory haze and slow implementation of a real medical marijuana program has left many in the dark about what the law actually means. As Attorney Ian N. Friedman has been discussing with local media, the program is also likely to create new challenges, needs, and issues when it comes to law enforcement, prosecution of crimes, and the rights of defendants in cases involving medical marijuana.

Here’s a break-down of some important things to know about Ohio’s medical marijuana laws and the state’s newly operational medical marijuana program.

1. The Law: Medical Marijuana for Qualifying Patients

Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program stems from growing support for the overall legalization of cannabis. From extrapolating marijuana from the heavy rhetoric used during America’s “War on Drugs,” to addressing its true risks for individuals and the public, its ability to generate income for states and municipalities, and its therapeutic uses for treating a range of conditions and providing a safer acceptable alternative for care amid the opioid epidemic, there’s been a lot that’s allowed the “marijuana movement” to come this far.

Though numerous states across the country have legalized marijuana for medicinal or even recreational use, laws and regulations still apply. In Ohio, these include the basics:

  • Qualifying Conditions – Medical marijuana is permitted for medicinal use only for patients who are prescribed medical cannabis by a doctor to treat one, or more, of 21 qualifying conditions. These include cancer, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, chronic or severe pain, and others.
  • Prescriptions – Only doctors approved by the State Board of Ohio are permitted to recommend medical marijuana. By law, they must have a patient-doctor relationship, must review a patient’s prescriptions over the past month, and must discuss the risks and benefits of treating their conditions with cannabis. As of March 2019, nearly 450 physicians are allowed to make these recommendations.
  • Registration – Medical marijuana patients and caregivers must be registered to purchase, possess, and use medicinal cannabis with the State Board of Pharmacy, which keeps personal information private per the law. The board’s online registration system was not opened until December of 2018, roughly 5 months past its expected launch. Registered patients and caregivers are provided registry cards and photo IDs, which they must have to purchase cannabis at a licensed Ohio dispensary. They are valid for one year.
  • Quantity / Possession – Patients and caregivers are permitted by law to possess up to a 90-day supply of medical marijuana. Per state law, a patient who purchases a 30-day supply from their first dispensary trip would be limited to no more than a 60-day supply of medical marijuana until 90 days after the initial purchase.
  • Cultivation – Growing / cultivation of medical marijuana at home is not permitted, even for licensed patients and caregivers.
  • Means of Use – While state law only permits medicinal cannabis in a form that can be vaporized, rather than ignited or combusted using a flame, or as tinctures, patches, topical ointments, or oils, the first dispensaries opened selling only dried marijuana “flowers”, or buds, which by law must be vaporized.

2. The Program: Purchasing Medicinal Cannabis

As with many states that have legalized medicinal and / or recreational cannabis, the rollout of a system that must address the cultivation and manufacturing of marijuana and derivative products, licensing of businesses, sales to consumers, and a host of other regulatory issues can be cumbersome and slow. That’s evident with the slow start-up of Ohio’s medical marijuana system. Still, medical marijuana is being sold in Ohio.

Here’s how the system has been working so far:

  • Opening the Program – The first medical marijuana dispensaries opened on January 16, 2019. As of that date, there were only four retail stores in the state of Ohio. Many of the patients first in line included activists, veterans with PTSD, individuals recovering from opioid addiction, and others passionate about Ohio’s slow, albeit progressive, progress on the issue of marijuana. Most residents won’t see more convenient or local dispensaries until more open this spring.
  • The First Month – In the first two and a half weeks of legal sales alone, the state’s medical marijuana program reportedly sold nearly 70 pounds of medical marijuana for roughly $500,000. In the first month, sales were nearly at $1 million.
  • Product Availability – At the time of its opening, medical marijuana made available through the state’s program is available only in “flower” form (which ironically conflicts with the legislation permitting only the vaporization of marijuana, or use via edibles, tinctures, oils, and patches). As licensing issues are processed and the industry expands, there will likely be other cannabis products available at licensed dispensaries, including edibles and topicals.
  • Prices – Because there were only a few dozen strains of medical marijuana being grown by 14 cultivators, the supply for medical marijuana in Ohio could be limited, even though more than twice that number of cultivators have been licensed to grow. That’s not the most ideal situation for consumers and especially patients on disability with limited income. However, once more cultivators begin producing, and more medical marijuana becomes available, the current higher prices patients are paying (roughly $50 for 2.83 grams of flower, or upwards of $470 an ounce) will likely come down.
  • Amount / Packaging – As with other states that have legalized medical marijuana for recreational or medical uses, Ohio has rules about how medical marijuana can be sold. This includes requirements that it be pre-packaged and sold in amounts of 2.83 grams, or one-tenth of an ounce (or an “Ohio tenth”).
  • Other rules for Patients – Patients and caregivers are required under the law to purchase only from state-approved dispensaries, use approved methods of consumption (which means vaping the dried marijuana flower sold in many dispensaries as the only product), keeping products in their original packaging, and not operating vehicles, boats, or aircraft while medicated.

3. The Potential Problems

As Attorney Ian Friedman discussed with reporters from IndeOnline and ideastream, Ohio’s medical marijuana control program is likely to see some hiccups, potential problems, and important issues to address – especially in terms of enforcing marijuana laws, drug crimes, and DUI.

While that can mean some individuals may find themselves in the crosshairs of overzealous and/or under-trained law enforcement, it also means resulting legal cases created by those arrests (or citations) will resolve issues unaddressed by the statute.

  • DUI / OVI – Perhaps the biggest potential problem when it comes to marijuana is the immeasurable gray area of enforcing impaired driving laws (DUI / OVI). That’s due in large part to the drastic differences in how the human body processes marijuana, which can show up on a drug test days or weeks after initial use and well after intoxicating effects wear off, and be affected by the frequency of use. It additionally involves the inability of law enforcement to find objective and verifiable testing methods and procedures, and arguments as to when a person is considered “too high” to drive which so often accompany these charges. Under Ohio law, the state sets the limit for a marijuana DUI at 35 nanograms of marijuana metabolites per ml of urine, or 50 nanograms per ml of blood. That’s been criticized as too high a limit, and many advocates have pushed for better ways to gauge impairment. A zero tolerance approach to driving under the influence, however, could mean an increase in marijuana DUI arrests, though studies have shown marijuana use by drivers is substantially less dangerous to public safety than alcohol or even sleep deprivation. The law regarding marijuana DUIs is likely to “evolve very quickly,” Attorney Friedman notes, and that evolution will come through the courtrooms because it wasn’t done ahead of time.
  • Neighboring states – Purchasing legal medical marijuana, or recreational marijuana, in a legal state is fine if you meet the qualifying criteria and appropriately register with that state (as needed). However, registered patients who purchase legal pot in Ohio cannot bring it into other states without breaking the law. That includes federal law, and more realistically state law in places like Indiana, which does not permit the possession of marijuana (with the very limited exception of some CBD oils) in any form. Bringing medicinal cannabis into Indiana, even if purchased legally, could result in drug crime charges.
  • Federal law – While the federal government has exercised sensible restraint when it comes to prosecuting individuals for some non-violent marijuana offenses, marijuana, whether medicinal or state-legalized for recreational purposes, is still illegal under federal law. While most individuals won’t run afoul of the feds when it comes to small amounts of marijuana possession, federal law enforcement still has the authority to enforce the law. Certain circumstances may increase the likelihood of federal marijuana charges, such as possession and use on federal land (like a National Park), transporting marijuana across state lines, or federal crimes involving unlicensed cultivation, distribution, and trafficking for larger quantities. It may also have implications when it comes to purchasing firearms in similar matters where federal regulations may apply. Attorney Friedman has delved into additional issues in a previous blog post.
  • Training and enforcement – Training law enforcement to effectively enforce the state’s new laws will likely be a challenge. As Attorney Friedman told News 5 Cleveland, police are likely going to focus on ensuring patients use medical cannabis as prescribed. Should it be treated like any other medication, the problems would likely be limited. However, zealousness or sheer confusion about the law could mean unreasonable or unwarranted criminal charges.
  • CBD – CBD is the non-psychoactive compound in marijuana, and its purported benefits range from anxiety alleviation to pain relief. While it can and has been found on many retailers’ shelves and online, the state’s pharmacy board has reiterated CBD products can only be sold by licensed dispensaries. Attorney Friedman was recently quoted by WKYC 3 News on the issue.

As regulators, licensing authorities, and law enforcement throughout Ohio all scramble to expand the state’s already clearly successful program, train in new procedures, and become better acquainted with the law, the risks and “traps” that may lie ahead could make for new ground, and new precedent, in Ohio courtrooms. Experienced attorneys knowledgeable in state and federal laws, the Constitutional rights of suspects and defendants, and the tactics needed to overcome such obstacles, could very well become critical components to shaping the laws and what they’ll look like in the future.

Charged with a Marijuana Offense or Any Crime in Cleveland? Call: (888) 694-4645

Attorney Ian N. Friedman and our legal team at Friedman & Nemecek, L.L.C. Attorneys at Law have earned national recognition and widespread respect for their abilities to tackle even the most challenging of criminal cases. Attorney Ian Friedman has also become the go-to resource for news agencies and others seeking legal insight about the law and criminal implications inherent to Ohio’s medical marijuana program and drug crime statutes.

If you have questions regarding any criminal matter involving Ohio’s medical marijuana program, or any offense in state or federal courts, our award-winning attorneys are available to help. Contact us to speak with a lawyer.