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No, Ohio Didn't Accidentally Legalize Marijuana, Attorney General Says

On Friday, March 22, 2019, a participant smokes a marijuana cigarette during at meet and greet at "Tommy Chong's Live, Love, and Smoke Tour" in Los Angeles.
Richard Vogel
Associated Press

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced on Tuesday a stop-gap measure to help local law enforcement prosecute felony marijuana possession cases.

Yost’s move comes after multiple law enforcement agencies announced they would no longer be able to pursue marijuana possession charges in the wake of a new law legalizinghemp and CBD oil. Cities like Columbus last week said they don't have the equipment to differentiate between marijuana and hemp.

Under Ohio law, hemp is categorized as cannabis containing no more than 0.3% of the psychoactive component THC. Because of that specific definition, marijuana can no longer be identified by microscope and chemical color testing, and instead requires quantitative analysis.

“One of the local news organizations put a headline on a story that said, ‘Did the General Assembly accidentally legalize marijuana?’” Yost says.

The answer, Yost says, is no.

The Bureau of Criminal Investigation hopes to have the technology to test marijuana by the end of the year. But in the meantime, the Attorney General's office is helping agencies with cases that involve felony-weight marijuana that would carry a prison term.

“They can call our office and we will approve the case to go to a private lab and we will reimburse for the cost of that test,” Yost says.

Yost says BCI has dedicated $50,000 to the effort. Funding for BCI's testing instruments came from the legislature, which set aside money in the hemp legalization bill, HB 166.

"We are hoping by the end of the year, we are able to do these tests like we do all other drug tests in-house, and without cost to local law enforcement agencies," he says.

Although Columbus and other cities have greatly reduced penalties for misdemeanor marijuana possession, state penalties remain at $100 for possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana, and $250 and up to 30 days in jail for possession of up to 200 grams.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.