The “medicine” that treats Jane Doe’s depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder will soon be legal.
The local resident — whose name we are shielding because she fears losing her job or being charged by police — has been using marijuana for years. It doesn’t have the same negative side-effects of prescription pills, she said, and it calms her nerves.
Doe’s illegal pot use will soon become a valid treatment, provided she receives a patient ID card and prescription when medical marijuana becomes legal Sept. 8 under Ohio’s new laws.
Her doctor has been certified by the state and now Doe is just waiting to apply for the card.
“I’m just hoping people really open up their mind and listen to the facts that are out there and try to put aside what you’ve heard,” she said. “Try to put the stigma aside and just listen.”
Doe doesn’t match the pothead stereotype. She is a white-collar professional who lives in a suburban development in Lorain County. She is intelligent and no one would describe her as lazy — she was doing yard work when we talked to her — and she cares deeply for her family.
When she shares a glass of wine with friends, no one thinks twice of it. When people learn she uses cannabis, the response is completely different.
But studies show attitudes toward marijuana are rapidly changing across the nation. It’s become far more acceptable, especially as legalization in 29 states and Washington, D.C., erases long-standing taboos about who uses it, how it’s used, and what its effects are.
Sixty-one percent of Americans surveyed in October said marijuana use should be legalized, according to Pew Research Center. That’s nearly double the 31 percent who supported legalization in 2000.
Millennials (70 percent) and Generation X-ers (66 percent) lead that charge with Baby Boomers (56 percent) not far behind.
THE WAIT FOR WEED
Ohio became the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana after House Bill 523 went into effect Sept. 8, 2016.
Now cultivators, processors, and doctors are up against the clock. Prospective patients are just a little more than two months away from the “green” date that state law says medical marijuana should be receivable.
Plants can take 12 to 16 weeks to grow. That means the date marijuana plants needed to be in the ground in order to be available at launch has passed.
Fadi Boumitri of Ascension Biomedical previously said a marijuana farming operation in Oberlin must be ready for occupancy by the end of July. City officials said he still doesn’t have all required permits.
Oberlin’s building official, Tom Hall, said the interior design plans were received June 25. A heating and cooling contractor still hasn’t been chosen, he said.
“Nothing inside is going to be constructed until they get the steel put up on this outside and a roof built and that takes a while,” Hall said. “This is brand new for everybody and we’re moving as fast as we can.”
He has faith the cultivation site will be ready to roll by early September.
Boumitri did not return calls for comment.
The lawyer, based in Cleveland, was awarded a cultivating license by the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program. The state’s approval means Boumitri can legally cultivate up to 3,000 square feet of marijuana.
He received planning commission approval to build a 15,000-square-foot greenhouse, office, and warehouse on Artino Street.
To get a final certificate of operation, the facility must pass a state inspection and certify it meets all state rules and regulations. A tentative inspection has been scheduled for Ascension BioMedical LLC in August.
SALES IN LORAIN COUNTY
Medical marijuana dispensaries have been green-lit at 1920 Cooper Foster Park Rd. on the Lorain-Amherst border, as well as 709 Sugar Ln. and 603 Cleveland St. in Elyria.
The Ohio Board of Pharmacy awarded just 56 dispensary licenses statewide.
We looked into the Cooper Foster location, a 1.13-acre property next to Burger King that is owned by Amherst Plaza Limited Partnership. While it’s on the Lorain side of Cooper Foster, it sits inside the Amherst school district’s boundaries.
GTI Ohio LLC was granted the dispensary license, one of just three that will serve a district that takes in Lorain, Medina, Wayne, and Holmes counties — which could make make our neck of the woods a destination for a kind of “medical tourism.”
The state evaluated and scored 376 applications for potential medical marijuana dispensaries. The Cooper Foster site had one of the highest scores in the state.
Scores were based on business plans that include startup information, employee qualifications, business history, and experience; an operations plan on dispensary oversight and security, storage of product, inventory management, theft prevention, sanitation, safety, and record-keeping; and a patient care plan that included staff education and training, operating hours, and handling of patient information.
Operators have six months to show they are in compliance with new state laws governing marijuana dispensaries.
Once an on-site inspection is completed, they can start selling prescription pot to patients and caregivers.
Other communities have taken steps to prevent marijuana farming or dispensary operations.
Take, for example, Wellington, where a ban was put in place by village council January 2017. It was meant as a temporary moratorium while the state irons out the laws and regulations surrounding medical marijuana, and it remains in place still.
“There’s been no talk on the subject since we passed the moratorium last year,” said mayor Hans Schneider. “We’re still under the moratorium unless one of the members of council want to bring it up. We haven’t done anything with it, though. It’s something council would have to sit down, discuss, and find the best way forward. I imagine there would be some sort of awareness campaign or public forum discussion if we got to that point.”
Municipalities can’t, under Ohio law, ban their residents or visitors who are patients from using medical marijuana, however.
WHAT ABOUT POLICING?
Medical marijuana opens a new bag of questions for law enforcement in Ohio.
For example: How will legalization change the way roadside stops are conducted? If a cop smells marijuana, is it still reasonable grounds for a search? Will drivers need to show a medical identification card upfront?
Amherst police Lt.
Dan Makruski said he doesn’t expect Ohio to “reinvent the wheel” when it comes to procedure and his officers will get training on the new laws.
Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the Ohio attorney general’s office, said traffic laws and drug-related suspensions have not changed. It’s still illegal to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while operating a vehicle, and that includes legal prescriptions that can cause impairment.
Medical marijuana laws established the process by which the product could be recommended, received, and regulated, but regardless, smoking it is still illegal, he said.
But in many cases, police will rely on the courts to sort out some of the big questions.
If an arrestee disagrees with how a law enforcement interaction was handled, it could result in litigation that would ultimately set precedence for how it’s handled in Ohio, Tierney said.
“If people are expecting a change in current practice, then that would come from the legislature and until then, if there’s a gray area, they can request a formal opinion from our office,” he said.
Oberlin police Lt. Mike McCloskey said there’s always a learning curve when new laws come into play. “For us, it’s going to be mostly educating ourselves about the nuances of the law and how the actual process is going to work,” he said.
McCloskey has yet to see what a legitimate medical marijuana card will look like. He anticipates training to make sure his officers can tell real cards from fakes.
Road officers will still interpret the smell of burning marijuana as probable cause during a traffic stop, since smoking pot will remain illegal — but even that could change given court rulings.
Wellington police chief Tim Barfield said medical marijuana could make determining probable cause during traffic stops to “be very problematic.”
His bigger concern involves drugged driving incidents in states such as Colorado, where marijuana is legal for both medicinal and recreational use. “The truth is starting to come out there,” he said. “They have big problems there with lots of things.”
The number of drugged drivers killed in car crashes is dramatically rising, according to a study released in May by the Governors Highway Safety Administration.
Toxicology reports revealed that 44 percent of fatally injured drivers tested in 2016 had positive results. That’s a 50 percent increase over the span of a decade.
“When you legalize something, you’re telling everyone it’s good and OK,” Barfield said.
Police have a lot of experience dealing with drunk drivers. Their incident reports carefully detail the tests used to determine who is in violation of Ohio’s 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content limit for impairment.
But there’s no comparable roadside “breathalyzer” test for marijuana.
The presence of THC — the psychoactive compound in cannabis — in a driver’s blood has not been shown to be a reliable measure of marijuana driving impairment, according to a 2017 release by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Marijuana has been shown to impair critical driving-related skills but “it is very unlikely a police officer would encounter a suspect and obtain a sample of blood or oral fluid within a short enough time for high THC levels to be detected,” the study said.
Without a chemical test, the alternative is to develop a psycho-motor, behavioral, or cognitive test that would indicate the degree of crash risk due to marijuana use.
Most tests can show the presence of metabolized THC in urine or blood. Proving exactly when someone ingested the drug remains elusive.
Detecting impairment is also complicated by marijuana’s various forms.
With marijuana edibles, vape pens, or oils, there is little to no odor such as with smoking, which makes it difficult to determine what is causing the signs of impairment.
Barfield said marijuana-related driving offenses are “way up in the county,” in large part because police weren’t testing for THC before.
GUNS OR GRASS?
Conflicts between state and federal law have raised another issue: whether people using medical marijuana can buy a gun.
The short answer is no.
Marijuana remains an illegal narcotic at the federal level. Under the Gun Control Act of 1968, any “unlawful user or addict of any controlled substance” is barred from possessing or selling firearms or ammunition.
The federal prohibition also means that registered patients forfeit their ability to possess, apply for, or renew a state license to carry firearms.
The issue raises Second Amendment alarms but the ban has already withstood at least one legal challenge.
A Nevada woman challenged the policy on Second Amendment grounds. She took her arguments to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in 2016 that marijuana and other drugs raise the risk of unpredictable behavior.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.