Although Ohio’s newfound medical marijuana law will officially hit the books on Thursday, this means very little for patients needing immediate, legal access to the herb. In fact, no cultivation sites or dispensaries are expected to get down to business for another two years, which, unfortunately, puts those residents who are interested in participating in the program in a tough position: Do we wait out the system, or engage in the dangerous practice of smuggling in marijuana from a legal state?
When Governor John Kasich put his signature on House Bill 523 earlier this year, making Ohio the 26th state in the nation to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program, it came with a provision that allows the would-be-patients of the Buckeye State to obtain cannabis products from legal states—like neighboring Michigan. But the language of the law has confused many of the state’s residents (at least those without a law degree), which could potentially lead to some people catching some heat from the federal government.
While marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes in both Ohio and Michigan, traveling across state lines with any amount of a substance derived from the cannabis plant is a violation of federal law. This means any legitimate patient from Ohio planning to obtain medicine from a source in Michigan stands the risk of being charged with federal drug trafficking once they pass the “Ohio Welcomes You” sign—a crime that, even for small amounts of marijuana, comes with a penalty of up to five years in prison and fines reaching $250,000.
While it is true that Ohio’s new medical marijuana law comes with an “affirmative defense” clause for those patients with a recommendation provided by a state-licensed physician, it does not apply to those people under the wrath of federal prosecutors. Sadly, some legal experts have even suggested that the affirmative defense, which basically gives certified patients the right to argue medical necessity in a court of law, will not exactly prevent people from getting nailed to the cross in state court, either.
“The important thing to remember is this (affirmative defense) doesn’t mean you can’t be prosecuted,” Douglas Berman, a professor at The Ohio State University, told WCPO. “It just means if you are, this is the defense you can use in court to ask a judge to dismiss the complaint. It doesn’t mean you avoid the hassle of the courts.”
Ohio patients also have the issue of cultivation to contend with.
Unlike some medical marijuana states, Ohio’s law does not come with a home grow provision that gives patients the freedom to produce their own medicine. Therefore, even with a medical marijuana recommendation, growing weed is still considered a criminal offense. The law only allows patients with around 20 specific conditions to use various cannabis products, including edibles, oils, and vapors. Smokeable marijuana is prohibited.
State officials are not expected to officially launch the state’s medical marijuana program until 2018. Until then, patients will be forced to purchase medicine at their own risk.