Local man caught in the middle of Ohio's new murky medical marijuana law

Although Ohio's new medical marijuana law is in effect, police are still considering any kind of marijuana, for any purpose, illegal. And that put a local man in the middle of a virtual tug-of-war when a drug task force showed up at his home.

Caught in the middle

"The last thing I want to do is break the law," said the man who wished to remain anonymous. He spoke exclusively to News 5's Kristin Volk.

The man is a medical marijuana patient. He has a written doctor's recommendation to use marijuana to mitigate the problems he experiences from glaucoma, a qualifying condition under the state's medical marijuana law. He vaporizes a marijuana oil extract, which is a state-approved consumption method.

"I'm acting in compliance with the law as it exists on the books," said the man.

Targeted as a criminal

But a group of police officers and detectives recently targeted the man as a criminal. The Southeast Area Law Enforcement, or SEALE, task force knocked on his front door, handed him a search warrant and told him they were looking for marijuana. 

"We were escorted into the living room and basically monitored while they did the search," he said.

The task force found the man's marijuana, in the form of his oil extract, which he uses to treat his glaucoma. He added that the amount they found was less than a quarter cup, and the task force seized it.

"From our standpoint, it's still deemed criminal to possess or sell," said Kris Nietert, Bedford police chief and head of the narcotics division of the SEALE task force.

The guidelines  — or lack thereof 

Ohio legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes in September 2016. At that time, it also released few guidelines about it. But, among them, it states that an individual with a written doctor's recommendation can assert an affirmative defense if charged with a marijuana-related crime, as long as the patient meets the state's qualifying conditions.

"There has to be a concerted effort from those in the industry, from those in the advocacy community, to educate the broader community about this affirmative defense, about the qualifying conditions," said Tom Haren, the man's attorney.

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But Nietert said he and his law enforcement colleagues don't recognize the state's affirmative defense clause because Ohio has not released its specific rules about how the medical marijuana law is supposed to work. Those rules will be published September 2017. 

"There's nothing in place to determine you're violation free," added Nietert.

The man was never charged in the case. The task force returned his marijuana because they said he had so little of it, it would have been a misdemeanor charge. And that is inconsistent with their purpose.

"This is a group that is focused on eradicating far more worse issues," said the man. "They don't need to worry about a medical marijuana patient with a misdemeanor amount of medicine."

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