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Medical marijuana means new education for Ohio law enforcement

Posted: 9:57 AM, Jan 09, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-09 09:57:06-05
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CLEVELAND — Before medical marijuana was legal in Ohio, enforcing the law was straightforward. Any possession or positive drug test meant someone probably did something illegal.

RELATED: Ohio's first medical marijuana dispensary approved to open

That's changing now that medical marijuana is about to be available to patients under a doctor's care.

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Drying marijuana plants wait to be processed into medicine as part of Ohio's Medical Marijuana Control Program.

"Not everyone with marijuana in their system is necessarily operating while intoxicated, particularly if they have a medical marijuana card," said lawyer Ian Friedman.

RELATED: Ohio patients started 2018 thinking medical marijuana would be available by now

That means education falls on the Ohio Attorney General's office to make sure all parts of government that will interact with medical marijuana patients know the new law.

The Ohio Attorney General's office tells News 5:

"[Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy] (OPOTA) has already incorporated information about the changes into relevant courses, such as the Marijuana Identification course. We also had a workshop about Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program at the 2018 Law Enforcement Conference for law enforcement statewide. (That workshop was presented by the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy, a board you also may want to contact regarding training.) We also will continue to monitor and make changes as needed. OPOTA also offers courses such as the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement course, which provides officers with general knowledge related to drug-impaired driving, and the Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Instructor course, which is designed to give instructors the knowledge and skills needed to teach an OVI/Standardized Field Sobriety Testing program to in-service personnel or basic academy cadets. Additionally, to be eligible to sit for the state certification exam (to become a peace officer), students must pass the psychomotor skills related to conduct Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST). Additionally, the Highway Patrol also offers courses on this topic."
Dan Tierney, AGO Spokesperson

Under Ohio law, drivers are allowed to have a small amount of marijuana (less than 2 ng/ml THC in blood or less than 10 ng/ml THC in urine) in their system and legally operate a car.

"There has to be an interplay between law enforcement and the medical profession," said Friedman.

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Cleveland's proposed ordinance has no impact on Ohio's Medical Marijuana Control Program, which requires patients to have medical cards giving them permission to buy and possess only marijuana grown and processed through the state program. At cultivation facilities, yellow tags allow state regulators to track all product created in the state under strict penalties for companies found to have untagged plants.

In the months leading up to the launch of Ohio's Medical Marijuana Control Program, doctors have given Affirmative Defense Letters to patients. Those letters have been an attempt to tell the justice system that patients are using medical marijuana under a doctor's car, but it's not a guaranteed "Get out of jail free" card.

But as Ohio's medical marijuana program comes online, Friedman says the biggest focus for law enforcement is making sure that patients are using their medical cannabis as it's prescribed.

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Yellow tags allow medical marijuana businesses and state regulators to track each plant "from seed to sale" so that all product can be traced to where it came from.

"I mean, I don't really see too many problems if you look at it just like any other medication," said Friedman.

But when Canada legalized recreational marijuana, Ontario Police Service Spokesperson Sgt. Steve Betteridge said there's no widely accepted test to figure out how much marijuana is in a driver's system. Instead, he said officers there would focus on determining if drivers are impaired through field sobriety tests.

Officials in Ohio say they are taking a similar approach.

Canton Police Spokesperson Lt. Dennis Garren released this statement:

"In the absence of an accepted test to determine the THC levels of a driver during a traffic stop, our officers use their experience and observations to determine impairment. The way a driver operates his/her vehicle and responds to officers upon contact along with the officers' observations (sight and smell) are the primary factors they consider. There is training called ARIDE (Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement) which gives officers the ability to recognize the effects of specific drugs and how impairment by that drug effects driving and behavior. As an organization we are going to seek out that type of training for more of our officers. Our officers will treat medical marijuana like other prescription medications: a patient is responsible for understanding the effects of legally prescribed medication and adjusting their behavior accordingly."
Lt. Dennis Garren