Proposed Ohio bill would relax OVI rules for marijuana users

Traffic stop
Posted at 8:08 PM, Jan 26, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A new bill introduced to the Ohio Senate would prevent marijuana enthusiasts from facing charges for driving with THC in their system as long as they can prove they weren't impaired.

Drivers can get pulled over for many different reasons, but Ally Reaves with Midwest CannaWomen said a disconnect in state law could cause someone to get charged with a crime, even if they haven’t done anything wrong.

"In an OVI, we are charged with being medicated on stuff you bought legally from a dispensary or smoke shop," said Reaves. "That's not fair."

State Sen. Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville) has been at the forefront of revising marijuana laws and Senate Bill 26 would change the standards of the Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence (OVI) law. It was introduced to help update Ohio laws due to the prevalence of medical marijuana licenses, the lawmaker said.

"Under the current statute for an OVI, it's testing whether or not it's in your system," he said. "Now that we have legalized it for medical purposes, I think we need to update the statute to where we're looking at whether or not somebody is impaired."

This bill would remove the per se limits for marijuana and marijuana metabolites for purposes of determining an OVI violation. Per se laws are when drivers have a certain amount of a substance in their system. Without a per se level, the bill would remove the automatic license suspension.

Manning, a former defense attorney and prosecutor for the city of North Ridgeville has already introduced this bill but it didn't move. This time, he is working closely with state troopers, law enforcement and prosecutors, he said.

"Our policemen and women that are enforcing these traffic laws are doing a great job and very often are not charging anybody unless they are showing signs of impairment, whether that's through their field sobriety tests or their own observations," said Manning. "But there are situations where somebody is arrested and has consumed marijuana in the previous few days and technically would be above that 'per se' level, even though there's no impairment whatsoever."

Cannabis can remain in a person's system for weeks without it affecting them. Manning’s bill would allow drivers to have up to 25 nanograms of THC per milliliter in their urine instead of the current 10. For blood, it would raise the concentration from two to five nanograms of THC per milliliter.

"The consensus of the scientific community is clear that there is no acceptable limit of marijuana that automatically makes a person impaired," he said. "Impairment must be considered on a case-by-case basis considering all of the available evidence."

President of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio Gary Wolske said that THC will metabolize and lessen over the course of a few weeks and so the law operates fine.

"Now we want to increase the levels to allow more people to legally drive while they're high?" said Wolske. "That doesn't seem like the direction we've been going for a lot of years."

The retired Garfield Heights Police lieutenant said that the country has always lowered the amount of alcohol someone could drink before they drive, not increased it.

"Marijuana in general is a lot different than alcohol, alcohol is lot more black and white," said Manning.

Wolske said he wants the state to be as safe as possible and the lawmaker agreed. Manning added that he is working to make sure people are still being safe on the roads but that no one is convicted of something that isn’t illegal.

Depending on the advancement of the testing, alcohol only lasts in urine for 12 to 130 hours, according to the Cleveland Clinic. With THC, urine tests can identify the drug for 27 days, the hospital states.

"You're probably not going to catch that guy who just happened to smoke for the first time and the only time 30 days ago and it's going to be in his system," he said. "And if that's the case, the person has the opportunity to go to court and plead their case."

Reaves said that having to fight in court can cause major issues, especially because it can ruin people's records.

"You're really about to put innocent people in jail," Reaves said.

Reaves, along with running CannaWomen, also fights for criminal justice reform. She has hosted an expungement clinic for those who have been convicted of crimes such as an OVI or possession of marijuana offense. Her latest one is in February in a few locations across the state.

Manning has also supported expungement and sponsored a bill, signed into law in Jan., that would expand record expungement eligibility.

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