Ohio’s medical marijuana law officially takes effect today, but there aren’t any cultivation operations up and running yet to produce the herb, nor are there any dispensaries ready to open their doors for patients looking to purchase cannabis products.
In fact, the full scale of the state’s newfound medical marijuana program is not expected to be realized until sometime in 2018.
But fortunately, there are some protections contained in the new law that will allow patients to get their hands on the medicine they need while the state hashes out the details.
When Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 523 earlier this year -- a move that made Ohio the 25th state in the country to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program – the law came with a condition that allows patients with a recommendation from a state-licensed doctor to obtain cannabis products from a legal state – like neighboring Michigan.
This portion of the law provides patients with a limited safeguard against prosecution if they happen to get busted in possession of cannabis edibles, oils or vapors before these products are made available in dispensaries all across the state.
It is called the “affirmative defense,” which basically allows any certified patient arrested in Ohio for possession of marijuana (up to a 90 day supply) to petition the court for a full dismissal based on medical necessity. Unfortunately, this provision is not a failsafe since it does not actually prevent prosecution – it only gives the patient a fighting chance at beating the charges.
“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.”
Another major problem Ohio patients are destined to face when trying to obtain medical marijuana outside the Buckeye State is the risk of getting nailed to the wall by Uncle Sam’s drug busting henchmen. Although medical marijuana is legal in both Michigan and Ohio, crossing state lines with anything derived from the cannabis plant is a federal offense. That means patients who purchase cannabis products from a legal state will ultimately run the risk of being slapped with federal drug trafficking charges if they happen to get caught – an offense that, even for small amounts of marijuana, carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and fines reaching $250,000.
Yet, despite the risks involved, marijuana advocates say they feel confident that the positive aspects of the new law will outweigh the negative.
“This is a major milestone in establishing a system that will help countless Ohioans who are suffering from serious illnesses,” Aaron Marshall, spokesperson for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, told MERRY JANE in a statement. “It is one of the first steps on a long road to developing a well-regulated system. The real work of crafting the specific rules and regulations still lies ahead.”
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Ohio regulators should have the first draft of the rules finished sometime this month, but full implementation of the program is not expected to happen for another two years.