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Medical marijuana and OVI

Ohio's medical marijuana program finally got off the ground, and many patients may already see the benefits of its use. Hopefully, more individuals suffering from certain conditions will receive the right to try this type of treatment to find relief.

However, just because an individual obtains the right to use medical marijuana doesn't mean he or she becomes immune to the state's other laws, such as the one against driving under the influence, which Ohio calls operating a vehicle impaired. Part of the problem that Ohio and other states face is establishing that a driver actively used marijuana before driving. After all, it's not like using a breath test to establish alcohol use.

The issues with establishing probable cause for arrest

After several years of trial and error, officials came up with ways to determine whether a driver was under the influence of alcohol. Field sobriety tests and roadside breath tests became the standard for determining intoxication, but the question now is whether those same methods work for determining whether someone is driving while high.

Obviously, the established breath test won't detect the presence of THC (the addictive component in marijuana) in a driver's system like it does alcohol. Until someone perfects a device that does the same thing for marijuana, a breath test doesn't establish the probable cause needed for an arrest. Officers often attempt to use field sobriety tests to provide probable cause for an OVI-drugs arrest, but doing so presents issues as well.

A vast amount of research indicates that even sober individuals who have not consumed any alcohol or marijuana could "fail" these tests. There is no reason to believe they make an effective tool for determining whether a driver is high.

The issues with chemical testing for marijuana

Alcohol leaves the body at a measurable, predetermined rate. However, THC can remain in your system long after the effects wear off because the fat-soluble properties of marijuana mean that your body holds onto the THC, sometimes for several days. Regular medical marijuana users may always test positive for some THC in their systems.

Police may attempt another tactic to make an arrest -- possession charges. However, if you participate in the state's medical marijuana program and can prove it during a traffic stop, the officer may not be able to arrest you for possession.

Things could change in the future, however. Researchers across the country are attempting to find a way for officers to establish the probable cause needed to make an arrest for OVI-drugs that holds up in court. That does not mean that other, independent evidence doesn't provide that probable cause. Smoke billowing out of a vehicle during a traffic stop, along with the smell of marijuana, are examples of independent evidence.

Challenging the charges

Just because you legally use marijuana for medical reasons should not make you an "easy target" for law enforcement when it comes to OVI. You retain the right to challenge the charges, and with the uncertainty and confusion currently wreaking havoc on the system, exercising that right becomes even more crucial.

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