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Ohio’s Marihuana Possession Laws

English: Marijuana seeds. Español: Semillas de...

Marihuana is illegal in Ohio.  See O.R.C. 2925.11.  While some states have taken steps to legalize, decriminalize or actively not enforce marihuana laws, Ohio maintains criminal penalties for possession of even small amounts of pot.  The Ohio State Highway Patrol has stepped up marihuana enforcement and local police, depending on the jurisdiction, are vigilant in enforcing marihuana laws.  Unlike many other states, Ohio’s penalties are based entirely on weight.  Even a trace amount of a controlled substance may be the basis for a drug abuse conviction. State v. Teamer (1998), 82 Ohio St. 3d 490.

Possession of less than 100 grams is a minor misdemeanor which carries no possibility of jail and a maximum fine of $150.  101 grams to 200 grams of marihuana, if possessed, will result in a 4th degree misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $250 and a jail sentence of up to 30 days.  Possessing (which includes holding) over 201 to 999 grams is a fifth degree felony level offense which carries a 6 to 12 months in prison (not jail…prison) and a maximum fine of $2,500.  If caught possession 1000 to 4999 grams you face a third degree felony, a maximum $10,000 fine and anywhere from 1-5 years in prison.  Interestingly, possession 5000-19,999 is also a third degree felony carrying the same potential penalties as possession 1000-4999 grams but many judges sentence offender more harshly at this level of possession.  If a defendant is found with over 20,000 grams he or she faces a mandatory 8 years in prison and a maximum fine of $15,000.  Alleged offenders may face any one or more of the following direct penalties: Jail or prison sentence, Probation or parole, Regular or random drug testing, Fines, Community service, Court-ordered substance abuse treatment, A criminal record, License suspension and untold unexpected consequences from a humiliation, loss of employment to expulsion from school and being barred from subsidized housing.  Even minor drug cases, such as possession of a small amount of marijuana, can prevent you from getting a job, qualifying for student loans or obtaining a weapons permit.  Felony drug offenses also have potential to result in forfeiture of money or property.

2925.11 Possession of controlled substances.

(A) No person shall knowingly obtain, possess, or use a controlled substance.

(C) Whoever violates division (A) of this section is guilty of one of the following:

(3) If the drug involved in the violation is marihuana or a compound, mixture, preparation, or substance containing marihuana other than hashish, whoever violates division (A) of this section is guilty of possession of marihuana. The penalty for the offense shall be determined as follows:

(a) Except as otherwise provided in division (C)(3)(b), (c), (d), (e), or (f) of this section, possession of marihuana is a minor misdemeanor.

(b) If the amount of the drug involved equals or exceeds one hundred grams but is less than two hundred grams, possession of marihuana is a misdemeanor of the fourth degree.

Ohio also defines “possession” expansively.  See State v. Mann (1993), 93 Ohio App. 3d 301, 308-309 — “A person has constructive possession of a thing or substance when he is able to exercise dominion or control over it…Ownership of the contraband need not be established. A person may indeed control or possess property belonging to another. The Supreme Court has held that knowledge of illegal good on one’s property is sufficient to show constructive possession….Where the defendant neither owns, leases nor occupies the premises, his mere presence in an apartment in which drugs and criminal tools are found is insufficient evidence of his possession of the contraband…”  According to Ohio Revised Code § 2925, marijuana offenses require merely “knowledge” and “reasonable belief.”

A marijuana arrest and charge does not mean that you will be convicted. There are several defenses to marijuana charges that will result in a dismissal of the charges.  Drug possession charges can be challenged and beaten in court with a variety of legal strategies, including motions to suppress on grounds of illegal search, and a host of other options depending on the facts of your particular case.  If you find yourself facing a drug charge it is vital that you 1) take the charge seriously, and 2) contact a lawyer with the skill and knowledge to defend your case.  We offer free consultations and once we know the facts of your case we can give you a good indication of what type of sentence you face and what we can do to beat the case.  We are former prosecutors and skilled defenders who have built a team of former cops, forensic experts, toxicologists, and medical professionals.  We take our job seriously and we fight.

Charles M. Rowland II dedicates his practice to defending the accused in Fairborn, Dayton, Springfield, Kettering, Vandalia, Xenia, Miamisburg, Springboro, Huber Heights, Oakwood, Beavercreek, Centerville and throughout Ohio.  He has the credentials and the experience to win your case and has made himself the Miami Valley’s choice for DUI defense.  Contact Charles Rowland by phone at 937-318-1DUI (937-318-1384), 937-879-9542, or toll-free at 1-888-ROWLAND (888-769-5263).  For after-hours help contact our 24/7 DUI HOTLINE at 937-776-2671.  For information about Dayton DUI sent directly to your mobile device, text DaytonDUI (one word) to 50500.  Follow DaytonDUI on Twitter @DaytonDUI or Get Twitter updates via SMS by texting DaytonDUI to 40404. DaytonDUI is also available on Facebook and on the DaytonDUI channel on YouTube.  You can also email Charles Rowland at: CharlesRowland@DaytonDUI.com or write to us at 2190 Gateway Dr., Fairborn, Ohio 45324. 

Zero Tolerance for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs? (from NORML)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted a press release entitled “Drug Use Among Fatally Injured Drivers Increased Over the Last Five Years“.  The release summarizes the full report that examines the the drug test results of drivers who had been killed in automobile crashes.  While the report itself is objective and offers many caveats about reading it as an indictment of drug-using drivers as serious safety risk, the mainstream media hasn’t been as “fair and balanced” and the Drug Czar has jumped on the release to forward his agenda.

The headline from the Associated Press reads: “Gov’t: Drugs were in 1 in 5 drivers killed in 2009“.  The lede for the story is:

About 1 in 5 drivers who were killed last year in car crashes tested positive for drugs, raising concerns about the impact of drugs on auto safety, the government reported Tuesday.

Other outlets like USA Today give it a more chilling headline: “U.S.: Third of tests on motorists killed shows drug use“.  The discrepancy results from the AP considering all drivers who were killed when not every driver killed was drug tested.  The USA Today considers the “tests on motorists killed”, thereby discounting the 37% of killed drivers who were never drug tested.  Whatever – 20% of all drivers or 33% of all drivers tested – they’re dead, they drove, there’s drugs, be afraid!

The AP then follows with a second paragraph that points out the obvious logical fallacy of “correlation = causation” – just because dead drivers had drugs in their system doesn’t mean drugs caused the accident that killed them – something the USA Today article never addresses:

Researchers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the new data underscored a growing problem of people driving with drugs in their systems. But they cautioned that it was not clear that drugs caused the crashes and more research was needed to determine how certain drugs can hinder a person’s ability to drive safely.

However, while AP doesn’t get around to distinguishing what exactly “drugs” refers to until paragraph seven, USA Today opens by explaining we’re talking about all drugs, prescription and recreational:

One-third of all the drug tests done on drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents came back positive for drugs ranging from hallucinogens to prescription pain killers last year — a 5 percentage point increase since 2005, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported Tuesday.

Nobody recommends driving while impaired by drugs – legal or illegal.  NORML has maintained this as a core Principle of Responsible Use for years.  But there are many legal prescription drugs that will cause impairment that bear the warning “Until you know how you may be affected by this drug, do not drive or operate heavy machinery,” which suggests to me that once you do know how it affects you, it’s your judgment call.  In fact, one of those drugs is prescription dronabinol, the synthetic cannabinoid THC marketed as “Marinol”.

AP’s seventh paragraph also points out that presence of a drug in your system may have no bearing on whether that drug was impairing you in the first place:

The tests took into account both legal and illegal drugs, including heroin, methadone, morphine, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, LSD, prescription drugs and inhalants. The amount of time the drug could linger in the body varied by drug type, the researchers said, so it was unclear when the drivers had used the drugs prior to the fatal crashes.

Cannabis metabolites can be detectable in urine for weeks and THC itself can be detected blood for at least six hours.  Most illegal drugs can be detected for a few days in urine and a few hours in blood.  Prescription drugs are just as varied.  So we’ve got 20% or 33% of killed drivers who had a drug in their system that may or may not have contributed to the crash that killed them and they may or may not have taken that drug before driving.

For comparison’s sake, USA Today links to the stat that drowsiness was a factor in 17% of all fatal crashes.  You just may be more likely to die in a crash caused by lack of a nap as by taking the pill to get a good night’s sleep.  Are you scared yet?  Well, you should be, because the whole point of scaring you about the drugged drivers is the push for nationwide zero-tolerance DUID laws.  Back to the USA Today:

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, called the numbers of fatalities involving drugs “alarmingly high,” and called for more states to pass laws making it a crime to have illegal drugs in the body while driving, no matter how much. Seventeen states already have such laws.

The lack of research also presents a problem for lawmakers to develop laws. They can outlaw the use of all illegal drugs while driving, but what about someone who took a prescription sleeping pill a few hours ago?

Since they can outlaw the illegal drugs and there is no political cost in doing so, they will.  These “zero tolerance” laws means if they detect any metabolite of any illegal drug, you are guilty of driving impaired.  Since that joint you smoked could be detectable long after its effects had worn off, you’d be an impaired driver in the eyes of the law even if you were completely sober and unimpaired.  Since marijuana is detectable for much longer periods than most any other drug, legal or illegal, “zero tolerance” laws amount to witch hunts for cannabis consumers behind the wheel.

The irony here is that compared to the threat from drinking drivers, drowsy drivers, texting drivers, and prescription drugged drivers, the threat from drivers using cannabis is negligible.  Just last week we took a look at a study in the Netherlands that showed that experienced users can develop a tolerance to the psychomotor impairing effects of cannabis.  This summer we examined a study performed in Iowa and Connecticut that showed cannabis-using drivers performed as well on a driving simulator after smoking marijuana as they did before smoking marijuana.  (If you’d like the full examination of marijuana and driving, please see Paul Armentano’s impeccable white paper, Cannabis and Driving: A Scientific and Rational Review.)

As for the prescription drugs, there isn’t much political benefit in threatening a majority of your constituents, especially the older ones who do most of the voting, with a DUI charge for the pills the doctor required them to take every day.  Also consider the lobbying money and clout of Big Pharma that won’t look kindly on strict new driving laws that might cause people to use less pills.

No, the per se limit on prescription drugs isn’t coming to your state anytime soon… but maybe the end of driving privileges for cannabis consumers in your state is.  The seventeen states with current per se DUID laws are:

  • Arizona (except for medical marijuana patients), Utah, South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Delaware, and Georgia already have these zero tolerance laws for any THC or metabolites of THC – if you toked within the past week, you could already be an impaired driver.
  • Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island have zero tolerance for THC in the blood – if you toked before bed you might be an impaired driver in the morning.
  • Nevada and Ohio consider you impaired if they detect 2 nanograms (2 billionths of a gram) of THC per milliliter of blood (2ng/ml) and Pennsylvania raises that limit to 5ng/ml.
  • Virginia, Minnesota, and North Carolina have zero tolerance laws for drugs that do not include cannabis or its metabolites.
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