Legalization of Medical Marijuana in Ohio Gains Support

Ohio is one of several states that has not moved to support medical marijuana, but organizations and politicians, including gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, still are hoping to see the measure on a future ballot.

FitzGerald said Wednesday he supports legalizing medical marijuana in Ohio, according to Cincinnati.com. He said the drug, which still is illegal in the state, could help alleviate the suffering of some ill residents.

Marijuana, also known as marihuana, pot, weed, bud, hydro, ganja, bud, cannabis or chronic, has been proven beneficial to some patients in treating pain relief associated with nerve damage, movement disorders, and glaucoma.

Marijuana also has been helpful in suppressing nausea associated with cancer treatments. Additionally, medical marijuana often is used as an appetite stimulant in individuals suffering from HIV, AIDS and cancer.  However, even merely possessing the drug is illegal according to Chapter 2925 of the Ohio Revised Code and could result in marijuana charges.

Possession of the drug in Ohio can result in misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the amount involved. If a person has less than 200 grams of marijuana in his or her possession, it could be a minor misdemeanor or a fourth-degree misdemeanor charge.

A person convicted of a minor misdemeanor marijuana offense can face a fine up to $150. If a person is convicted of a misdemeanor of the fourth degree, he or she could face a jail sentence up to 30 days, a fine up to $250 or both.

If a person is charged with possessing more than 200 grams of the substance, under Chapter 2925 of the Ohio Revised Code, he or she could face a felony charge. The offense could be punishable as a felony of the fifth degree, felony of the third degree or felony of the second degree.

A conviction for a felony of the fifth degree could include a prison sentence up to 30 days, a fine up to $2,500 or both. If a person is convicted of a third-degree felony, he or she could face both a prison sentence ranging from one to five years and a fine up to $10,000.

A second degree felony conviction carries the most severe penalties, including a prison sentence up to eight years, a fine up to $15,000 or both. The penalties could increase depending on several factors, including the amount involved in the offense.

Some lawmakers, organizations and voters are hoping to see the possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes decriminalized.  According to Cincinnati.com, 87 percent of Ohio voters believe medical marijuana use under the care of a doctor should be legal, based on results from a Quinnipiac University poll.

Efforts to place medical marijuana amendments before Ohio voters lacked enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Ohio Rights Group, the medical marijuana coalition with the most momentum, is pushing to have the amendments on the November ballot next year.

President’s Remarks Fuel Marijuana Debates

The recent statements made by President Obama have brought new fervor to the debate surrounding the legalization of marijuana. With the drug being considered for medical uses and legalized in various forms across each state, controversy surrounding the topic has already been running high.

A comment made by the President questions whether marijuana is as dangerous as alcohol. This has tipped off discussion regarding political stances on the issue and the effects of the Obama administration’s position on the topic. However, the President also made some very interesting remarks about the life-altering effects of a marijuana conviction on young offenders. He questioned the severity of the penalties put in place for even minor offenses and if this strategy is truly successful in reforming these individuals or even deterring others from offenses.

This concern is well placed, as an arrest for even simple marijuana possession can alter the course of a young person’s life in any state. In Ohio, a misdemeanor charge of possessing less than 200 grams of marijuana carries the possibility of up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $250. In addition to these sentences, an offender faces a mark on their criminal record that could lead to expulsion from school or prevent them from obtaining a job.

Possessing marijuana paraphernalia such as pipes, baggies, or rolling paper is another common offense that leads to serious consequences. This charge is usually filed in conjunction with another offense, and it carries its own sentence of up to 30 days in jail and steep fines, as well as a possibility of a loss of driving privileges.

With the use of marijuana so widespread across the country, these dire consequences are being faced by more and more individuals. Surveys have indicated that over 42% of people in the U.S. have tried marijuana, and 58% have stated that they approve legalizing its use. Attitudes toward the drug are clearly changing, and many are questioning the continued use of harsh punishments for an action that most citizens don’t even think should be illegal. Some are wondering if the President’s questions about the nature of the country’s laws regarding marijuana could be a sign of major changes that could soon change the way our country views the drug and its uses.

U.S. Attorney General to Introduce Drug Sentencing Reform Bill

Currently, almost half of the people serving time in federal prison are doing so because of drug charges. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently hinted that he is unhappy with that, and would like to change it. “I think there are too many people in jail for too long, and for not necessarily good reasons” (Wilkey, Robert “Eric Holder May Release Sweeping Drug Sentencing Proposal, Admits Current Practices Are Discriminatory”), Holder said in a recent interview. It is rumored that Holder is proposing major reforms in drug sentencing, which could mean shorter sentences for minor drug offenses, as well as an overall structural change in drug sentencing.

Holder also suggested that our current laws associated with drug sentencing may be discriminatory. “The war on drugs is now 30 or 40 years old. There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color” (Wilkey).

Holder has recently received criticism for publicly embracing a “laissez-faire” attitude towards laws regarding marijuana, but he has also garnered some support. “The country is in a bipartisan moment that makes major criminal justice reform possible,” said Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs of the Drug Policy Alliance. “You see it with bipartisan bills in Congress and bipartisan calls for sentencing reform. There’s an opportunity that the administration realizes it can take advantage of, and I hope that they do”(Wilkey).

The recently introduced bipartisan bills Piper eluded to include bills like the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would lower mandatory minimums in sentencing, and the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would give judges the ability to use their discretion on sentencing from case to case.

Piper also mentioned that now might be the right time to address federal recommendations regarding marijuana laws. “They’ve been mentioning new recommendations on marijuana for the past year,” said Piper. “They’ve been slow on it for certain, but that is undoubtedly connected to drug policy. This would be a good time to address both” (Wilkey).

If reform bills are passed to change our current drug sentencing structure, they will undoubtedly have a major impact on the way individuals who commit drug related crimes are sentenced. They may also substantially affect the way marijuana usage is governed in America. It is important to understand that although these bills may lessen the potential punishments for drug related crimes; they will not suddenly make all illegal drug use legal. If you are charged with a drug related crime before or even after a drug sentencing reform bill is passed, you may be facing time behind bars. In order to protect your freedom, consult with a qualified Columbus drug attorney who may be able to help you avoid any significant penalties.

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Ohio Law Enforcement Intensifies Focus on Drug Trafficking

 

In 2013, Ohio troopers have increased their focus on intercepting drug shipments, and their increased focus has led to a substantial increase in the amount of drug related arrests. Drug arrests have increased 19 percent across Ohio in the first six months of this year as compared to 2012. Franklin County currently leads the state in felony drug trafficking arrests. The majority of arrests involve marijuana, cocaine and heroin.

Drug traffickers have become aware of the increased focus on drug crimes in Ohio. Therefore, they have changed their tactics in order to increase the odds of successful deliveries. Drug dealers are breaking big loads down into smaller loads involving multiple shipments. This is what has contributed to the increased number of arrests.

Even though many dealers are cutting back on the size of shipments they make, Ohio troopers are still seizing a few large shipments from time to time. This year, Ohio troopers made a single bust involving 17,000 illicit prescription drug pills, and followed it up in July with a record seizure of 30 pounds of Heroin. Heroin has become the most commonly used opiate, seeing it’s arrest double this year.

The emphasis on drug crimes and taking time to interact with motorists for hints of possible drug possession have made Ohio a risky state for drug traffickers to operate in. Partnerships with other state police forces and federal drug agents with other agencies, such as Columbus police and the Franklin County sheriff’s office, are paying off. A team effort on June 6 through June 8 led to 87 drug arrests and 72 felony cases.

In Ohio, all controlled substances are categorized in Schedules. The Schedules are based on how addictive each drug is, and whether or not the drug has any medical purposes. The schedules range from one to five, with Schedule one being the most serious and addictive drugs and Schedule five being the least serious and addictive. The potential punishments for individuals who took part in drug trafficking usually depend on the Schedule the drug falls under, the amount of drugs, as well as where the drugs were trafficked. Depending on these circumstances, an individual’s prison sentence can range from six months, to up to 10 years, with potential fines of up to $20,000.

It is important for any individual facing drug charges to consult with an experienced Franklin County Drug lawyer who can advise them on the best course of action. If an individual is making informed legal decisions, it will increase the likelihood that he or she will be able to avoid being behind bars for a significant amount of time. A criminal defense attorney can thoroughly analyze the facts surrounding a case, find inaccuracies and errors made my law enforcement, and use them build a strong defense. The prosecution often relies heavily on circumstantial evidence to build their cases. A skilled Columbus defense attorney can use that evidence to create reasonable doubt that could lead to a reduced sentence, or an all-out dismissal of the case.

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Ohio Cracks Down on Prescription Drugs

Recently, national news sources have done stories on “pharm parties.” Pharm parties are small gatherings of teenagers who collect an assortment of prescription pills, usually either stealing them from their parents or purchasing them on the black market. They then might dump all the pills in a bowl and will roll dice. Whatever number they roll, they ingest that number of pills, often with a swig of liquor. Some variations use a multi-color die and mix pills that are the same color of the color they roll. Or they may just grab handfuls, like candy. This could be any kind of pills — pain medication, blood pressure medication, diabetes medication — and they almost never pay attention to a doctor’s advice of what can be mixed with what.

It’s scary stuff. But these national news stories can’t quantify how many of these parties actually take place, and it’s impossible to say how pervasive the problem is. We don’t know if this is a common happening in Ohio. These type of stories, however, have caused a good deal more fear. And whenever there’s fear of anything illegal, it tends to lead to stricter laws and more crackdowns.

Crackdowns happen to make people who have been afraid of any given hot topic feel like the government and law enforcement agencies  are doing something about the alleged problems. Just last month, 14 different agencies made 32 arrests of people in the Columbus area suspected of trafficking prescription drugs.

The most common prescription drugs sold or used illegally are usually painkillers, like oxycodone and Vicodin, or anti-depressants, like Xanax. Users range from people who take medication recreationally, to people who had a legitimate prescription but became addicted as their prescription ran out, to people who actually need the medication but, for whatever reason, cannot obtain a valid prescription. Those selling are often people with valid prescriptions or are pharmacy workers, like a pharmacist arrested like week in Delaware, Ohio, for stealing oxycodone.

Penalties for possessing prescription drugs without a valid prescription vary. If being convicted for a first offense, it will usually be a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable with up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. Possessing more, however, may lead to greater charges. If you’ve been arrested for prescription drug charges, an experienced criminal defense lawyer could make a big difference in how those charges turn out.

The practices described in “pharm parties” are shockingly dangerous, and parents should be vigilant, both about the whereabouts of their teenagers and of their prescription drugs, to keep them from happening. But as long as there’s this kind of fear, with its genesis in the so-called War on Drugs, and stoked by the media in their quest to sell newspapers, the government is going to do these crackdowns to show that they’re doing something, no matter what the real consequences are. Look for Columbus police and other Ohio law enforcement agencies to make more arrests on prescription drug charges in the future.