Small-time marijuana busts are a waste of time for everybody, and that includes the Ohio state crime lab.
Possession of less than 3.5 ounces of marijuana in Ohio is still a crime, but it’s a lowest-level misdemeanor that’s punishable by no more than a $150 fine and possible suspension of a driver’s license. But even that piddling bust takes some police work. For one, the cop doing the arrest has to prove that the marijuana is in fact marijuana—and has to prove it in court.
Typical procedure goes like this: Drugs seized during an arrest or raid are “suspected drugs,” good only for establishing probable cause to make an arrest, until they’re sent to the state crime lab for analysis. Only after a lab test confirms that the contraband is the real McCoy (and of course this is already a marijuana strain name) can a drug conviction be won in court.
This has created what’s become an expensive dilemma for Ohio’s small-town police. Last March, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s crime lab stopped testing minute amounts of marijuana, according to the Toledo Blade. Or more precisely, they stopped running grams, eighths and other small amounts of cannabis through the machine just to prove that, yes officer, that’s cannabis.
Now, if a cop wants to make his $150 case, the police department has to pay for the test—and most aren’t. There’s now both an obvious loophole for defendants charged with low-level marijuana crime as well as a new cottage industry in “cannabis education” for local police.
Per the Blade:
Officers typically use a basic field drug test to confirm that a substance is marijuana, but that test only establishes probable cause. Further testing would be needed for evidence to rise to the higher standard needed for conviction. An officer can be certified through a two-day Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy course, but Waterville Township Police Chief Richard Bingham is unsure that would hold up in court.
“Some courts will not accept that,” he said. “Some courts want a chemist report.”
Thus far, 85 officers have taken the two-day course, according to the newspaper. Since most small-time marijuana cases result in a plea deal—and since the testing ending, prosecutors have more incentive than ever to offer a plea rather than pay for a test in order to take a case to trial—local courts have yet to encounter a case dismissed or delayed because nobody could prove weed was weed.
That said, one local judge seemed to suggest that it’s only a matter of time before defendants get wise and realize this is an escape route, as a two-day course does not an expert make.
“Whether you go through a training or not, you still have to qualify that a person is, in fact, an expert, and that’s a legal standard that has to be established,” local municipal court Judge Gary Byers told the newspaper. “Whether an officer going through some sort of crash course on identifying marijuana rises to that level, we have to take on a case-by-case basis.”
Ohio is one of the states hit hard by the opiate epidemic—and one of the heroin and prescription pill-wracked states that helped hand Donald Trump the White House. With so much heroin, fentanyl and synthetic opiates to test, the lab had to make a decision to cut something else out—and that was weed.
Seems smart. Who could argue with that? Police, of course: Chief Bingham told the Blade that his department would likely start paying the state crime lab to test small amounts of marijuana—because, he said, that’s how you find the heroin.
“I don’t think anyone is looking at a big picture,” he told the newspaper. ‘You are 50 times more likely to progress to heroin or cocaine if you start with marijuana.”
Let’s forget for a second the gateway theory and the Trump-like “50 times” figure conjured out of thin air, and let’s hope Chief B is right on—at least partially. Let’s hope Ohio police progress to busting heroin and cocaine after their chances of making petty pot busts approach zero.