How will Police handle Marijuana Legalization?
Public health, enforcement and more: Your questions answered about marijuana legalization.
With Issue 2 taking effect Thursday, questions still loom about marijuana legalization in Ohio.
The statute legalizes the purchase, possession and cultivation of marijuana for adults 21 and older in the state.
While the law is officially in effect, state lawmakers have indicated they want to make some changes to the statute, including public use, how much to tax and where to allocate those funds.
But beyond what state lawmakers will do, other questions remain. How, for instance, will employers handle marijuana legalization? What about police? And how will this affect public health?
At the Nov. 30 Akron Roundtable event “A Closer Look at Cannabis,” moderated by Andrew Meyer, deputy editor of news Ideastream Public Media, a varied group of panelists spoke about expected and potential outcomes and efforts of marijuana legalization.
When will the general public be able to purchase marijuana?
“What will happen on the 7th is adult-use cannabis for anyone over the age of 21 will technically be legal” to possess, said Geoff Korff, founder and CEO of Galenas, an Akron-based medical marijuana cultivator. Sales, however, will take longer.
The Ohio Senate is currently considering a bill that would, among other provisions, allow medical dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana to those 21 and older 90 days after the bill is enacted. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday that he supports the bill, and Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, said it is the state's intention "to allow the legal market to go into effect as soon as possible."
That's earlier than previous estimates from experts, including from Victoria L. Ferrise, attorney at Akron-based law firm Brennan, Manna & Diamond, who said during the event that she expected commercial sales for adults ages 21 or older to begin in late September or early October 2024.
Still, for now, only medical marijuana patients will be able to continue purchasing from dispensaries.
Will employers be able to terminate employees for marijuana use?
Employers can still develop and enforce their own drug policies once the statute takes effect, Korff said.
“You can still have drug screenings," he said. "You can still do everything you did prior to the passage of the initiated statute."
To ensure their unemployment tax will not be affected, employers should be clear in their employee handbooks about possible disciplinary actions or terminations for positive marijuana tests, Ferrise said.
Because Ohio is an at-will employment state, employers can terminate an employee any time for any legal reason, including expressing their belief in marijuana legalization, said Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Joy Malek Oldfield, who presides over the felony drug court known as the Turning Point Program. This termination would be justified as long as there isn't a discriminatory component due to the employee being part of a protected class, she added.
Dr. Doug Smith, chief clinical officer of Summit County’s Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services Board (ADM Board), said there isn’t currently a way for an employer to test present marijuana impairment of an employee.
What are the developments with marijuana impairment testing?
Overall, Oldfield said impairment testing is imperfect.
The Turning Point Program tests participants’ marijuana use over time via urine and hair follicle testing. Urinalysis can detect marijuana in a person’s system for up to 30 to 45 days after their last use. Hair testing can detect marijuana use among heavy users dating back three months, according to a Drug and Alcohol Review study.
Smith made a comparison to alcohol to describe how people’s in-the-moment use of marijuana could be best tested.
“What do we know marijuana does to our nervous system, and how do we test the person?” he asked. “Like, if you think about somebody who is using alcohol—that affects the back of the brain, the balance system, and we make them walk on a line.”
Will law enforcement be able to conduct roadside tests to detect recent marijuana use?
“That is a big issue,” Ferrise said, “because unlike alcohol, it's not something where you can have a simple breathalyzer test, so it’s an open-ended question.”
Oldfield added: “That, I think, has always been a challenge, and particularly in some states where it’s what they call a ‘per se’ violation, meaning if we test you and it appears in your blood stream, then you are automatically charged with whatever the offense is, typically an OVI, when in reality, you may not have been impaired.” Ohio has per se violations for OVIs on the books.
The judge noted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has implemented protocols for law enforcement to determine if a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
However, she said drug impairment testing overall “isn't a perfect science.“
"We know that the alcohol impairment studies — the roadside, et cetera — those aren’t a perfect science, either," she said.
What are the harms of marijuana use among teens?
Young adult and adolescent use can impact brain development, learning, coordination and more, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
“We know that the earlier you use, and we know that the more frequently that you use and the potency of what you’re using, all has an impact on your developing brain,” Oldfield said.
The panelists all agreed that teen and adolescents’ access to marijuana must continue to be restricted, as is outlined in the initiated statute.
Smith said the ADM Board and other boards under the umbrella organization Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities are increasing educational efforts to encourage teens to share positive messages about sobriety.
“Peers listen to peers,” he said.
How can cannabis negatively impact adults?
When it comes to adults, Smith noted, psychological addictions to marijuana can occur.
Oldfield cited a JAMA Psychiatry study referenced by the CDC that found roughly 3 in 10 marijuana users have use disorder.
Marijuana use can also contribute to anxiety and depression among adults, she said.
As with many topics surrounding marijuana, certain data may appear to be conflicting or incomplete. A study from the University of Washington, for example, stated about two common marijuana compounds: “THC appears to decrease anxiety at lower doses and increase anxiety at higher doses. CBD appears to decrease anxiety at all doses that have been tested.”
The ADM Board and other public and private addiction and mental health care providers are available to treat people who have marijuana use disorder or other side effects, Smith said.
How does the statute protect kids?
The initiated statute passed by Issue 2 creates the Division of Cannabis Control, a regulatory body within the Ohio Department of Commerce, Ferrise said.
“They’re specifically tasked with regulating cannabis,” she said. “That includes the packaging, the advertising, the products."
Ferrise added that preventing underage marijuana use "is definitely an issue that is on their radar and of interest to lawmakers, and I assume the governor's administration, as well, which Department of Commerce would be connected with.”
Korff said he envisions regulations that deter packaging that appeals to children, paralleling alcohol and tobacco regulations.
He said the industry is in support of such packaging.
“The concerns that exist for parents of young children exist for the industry, as well," he said.
Smith noted that in Canada, where recreational marijuana is legal, health warnings are required on packaging. These include health warnings for users and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and directions to not drive or operate heavy machinery.
“I can see that being something that could be added potentially to this so that it's even more clear,” Smith said.