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Is Medical Marijuana Illegal?

Published: Jan 12, 2017 by John Izzo

Medical marijuana use in Ohio is legal according to state law. Substitute House Bill 523 was signed by Governor John Kasich on June 28, 2016. It took effect on September 6, 2016. Ohio law allows patients to use but not smoke marijuana for certain medical conditions, but only if recommended by a physician.

Ohio is still a few years away from the program being fully operational. The Ohio Department of Commerce will regulate the cultivation and processing of medical marijuana. The Ohio Department of Commerce will also regulate the laboratories that will test medical marijuana. The Ohio Board of Pharmacy will regulate the dispensing of medical marijuana. It will also maintain a database of medical marijuana patients and their caregivers. The State Medical Board of Ohio will designate and regulate the physicians who have been approved to recommend medical marijuana for patients.

If the laws of the State of Ohio are complied with, the Ohio medical marijuana industry need not worry about performing illegal acts, as it applies to state law. The same cannot be said for violations of federal law.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law. It is considered a Class I substance, having a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use.

How, then, has the medical marijuana industry thrived in other states. The simple answer is in 2009, the federal government encouraged their prosecutors not to prosecute people who distribute marijuana for medical purposes in accordance with state law. But the answer is more complicated than that.

In 2013, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) issued guidance regarding medical marijuana. The DOJ expected states to create strong state-based enforcement efforts and that the federal government would defer the right to challenge the state’s laws. A low priority was placed on marijuana businesses and financial institutions where medical marijuana was allowed by state law.

However, with a new administration approaching, a new plan may be developed to address this issue. Just this week, President-elect Trump’s nominee for United States Attorney General, Jeff Session, stated he won’t commit to never enforcing federal law. When asked about his approach to medical marijuana. He did address the feasibility of enforcement and admitted there may be a problem with resources of the federal government.

Session also said that the United States Attorney General’s job is to enforce the law, not to decide which laws to enforce. It is possible he will pursue actions in states where medical marijuana has been legalized. Time will tell.