A lawmaker in Ohio has introduced a bill that would help marijuana users in the state avoid a costly impaired driving charge.
News 5 Cleveland reports that the legislation, introduced by a Republican state senator, “would change the standards of the Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence (OVI) law,” and “help update Ohio laws due to the prevalence of medical marijuana licenses.”
The station said that the bill would help drivers avoid “facing charges for driving with THC in their system as long as they can prove they weren’t impaired.”
“Under the current statute for an OVI, it’s testing whether or not it’s in your system. 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,” GOP state Sen. Nathan Manning told News 5 Cleveland.
“Marijuana in general is a lot different than alcohol, alcohol is lot more black and white,” he added.
Ohio lawmakers passed a bill legalizing medical cannabis in 2016, and sales began in the Buckeye State three years later.
According to the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program, there are more than 330,000 registered medical cannabis patients in the state. The state announced last year that its medical cannabis program had generated nearly $725 million in sales since 2019.
Ohio patients with the following qualifying conditions are eligible for medical cannabis treatment under the state’s law: AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, cachexia, cancer, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy or another seizure disorder, fibromyalgia, glaucoma, hepatitis C, Huntington’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, pain that is either chronic and severe or intractable, Parkinson’s disease, positive status for HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle cell anemia, Spasticity, spinal cord disease or injury, terminal illness, Tourette syndrome, traumatic brain injury and ulcerative colitis.
Advocates say the medical cannabis law, and the ubiquity of the treatment statewide, has created a dilemma for law enforcement and patients alike.
“In an OVI, we are charged with being medicated on stuff you bought legally from a dispensary or smoke shop,” Ally Reaves with Midwest CannaWomen told News 5 Cleveland. “That’s not fair.”
The bill introduced by Manning “would allow drivers to have up to 25 nanograms of THC per milliliter in their urine instead of the current 10,” and “would raise the concentration from two to five nanograms of THC per milliliter” for blood, according to the station.
Shifting those standards is crucial, given how long THC can remain in a person’s system.
“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,” Manning told News 5 Cleveland. “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.”
“The consensus of the scientific community is clear that there is no acceptable limit of marijuana that automatically makes a person impaired,” Manning added. “Impairment must be considered on a case-by-case basis considering all of the available evidence.”
As the number of enrolled medical cannabis patients has grown in Ohio, so too is the number of places where they can legally obtain the product.
A state medical cannabis regulator said last year that Ohio was aiming to double the number of dispensary licenses in the state by adding more than 70 to the existing 58.