The state of Ohio has effectively legalised cannabis, putting a halt to arrests and prosecution for those guilty of marijuana misdemeanours.
However, it seems as though the decision wasn’t deliberate. On July 30 the state passed a law to legalise hemp, which was done by changing the legal definition of marijuana to exclude hemp based on the amount of THC it contains.
By changing the law around hemp, they simultaneously enabled CBD retailers to continue selling their cannabis-based products and ended the crack down that occurred six months previously, as the governing bodies removed cannabidiol off Ohio’s controlled substance list.
The new change also allows Ohio farmers to add the diverse crop to their long list of plants to source revenue from.
As the law now stands, cannabis with a level of 0.3% THC is considered hemp, while cannabis with more than 0.3% is considered marijuana, which is considered illegal for recreational use.
Testing for the percentages of THC within the cannabis plant is far from simple, Jason Pappas, vice president of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, told WBNS-10TV.
“Now we have to be able to distinguish the difference between hemp and marijuana…that has to be done through crime analysis,” he said.
“Until these testing requirements are fixed, it’s going to be very difficult to go after any marijuana cases in Ohio.
“You legalised marijuana in Ohio for the time being.”
It’s reported that most, if not all crime labs in Ohio can only detect the presence of THC within the plant, not the quantity of it.
Louis Tobin, the executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association admitted that cannabis has now been “legalised in Ohio, at least for a time” until an infrastructure to test THC levels is put in place.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost then sent a letter to state prosecutors warning them that it could take “several months” before a sufficient THC testing system is in place. As a result, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation has recommended that prosecutors “suspend identification of marijuana testing” and not indict “any cannabis-related items.”
The unfortunate turn of events for the state of Ohio will come as a surprise to many considering the state’s governor, Mike DeWine, declared himself against relaxing laws on cannabis use at the end of July.
‘Drop in IQ’
“I don’t think it’s a great idea” he stated before adding: “I am against legalisation of marijuana. Yes, I am.” DeWine then claimed that cannabis use can cause a “significant drop in IQ” and that it’s “not a benign drug” contrary to popular opinion.
His opinion on the growing industry reflects why cannabis is still illegal on a federal level, despite a number of states taking it upon themselves to legalise it recreationally this year.
One state that has typically enforced a strict stance on cannabis is Texas. However, as reported by the Leaf Desk last week, the second largest US state also ‘accidentally’ decriminalised cannabis after altering laws relating to hemp.
In the same way that Ohio lacks the infrastructure to test the THC levels in cannabis, Texas also has the same issue, meaning that it’s impossible to distinguish between hemp and illegal cannabis with THC levels more than 0.3%.
This presents a problematic situation for law enforcement, meaning that if Texans get caught with any form of cannabis, they can just claim that it is hemp and therefore avoid prosecution.
Leading the way
While Ohio and Texas made the decision to decriminalise cannabis by accident, there has been a deliberate push from states such as the likes of New York, Florida and even in the Caribbean, all of which look to be in a position of either legalising or decriminalising the use of cannabis.
Last month the New York state governor Andrew Cuomo effectively decriminalised cannabis. The change in legislation means that individuals found in possession of small amounts of cannabis will be subject to a discretionary fine and not just an overnight stay in a jail, which was the previous punishment.
There has also been talk of Florida being the next state to legalise cannabis for recreational use, according to political analyst Cal Prenthurst who spoke to the Leaf Desk last week. “I think the mood is changing significantly – even among the old staunchly anti-cannabis Republicans who have kept this idea off the table for so long,” Prenthurst said.
In the Caribbean there have also been interesting developments, Barbados seems to be lining itself up as the next country to legalise cannabis while, more recently, Jamaica’s Scientific Research Council (SRC) revealed they will undertake extensive research into the plant’s effectiveness in treating cancer.
And it seems as though they are beginning to catch up in Europe, with Luxembourg becoming the first European country to legalise cannabis.
Glaring issues remain
Despite a clear softening in the laws and punishments for cannabis-related crimes, there have still been cases of people being slapped with lifetime bans from the US for carrying CBD across the border, due to its illegal status on a federal level.
There is also the depressing reality that has seen some Americans earn a life sentence for possessing cannabis as a part of the controversial ‘three-strikes rule’.
However, it appears the tides are turning in some enforcement industries, with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently updating its guidance regarding medical cannabis and air travel, clarifying that it was legal to fly with cannabis-based medications if accompanied with a prescription.
A lot still depends on the upcoming FDA regulation of cannabis and CBD products. Further guidance should come out later this year after they appealed for comments from industry professionals in July.
A clear regulatory framework will not only enable the confusion associated with cannabis laws to be nipped in the bud, it will also help and encourage small businesses to continue or begin profiting from this increasingly flourishing sector.
Ultimately, the worst case scenario for governments and law enforcement is letting the production, sale and distribution of cannabis fall back into the hands of the criminal underworld, who have in some cases been forced out by safer legal alternatives like dispensaries.