Ohio Senate Bill Allows Drivers with Marijuana in Their System to Prove They’re Not Impaired

A bill filed by Republicans in the State Senate would allow Ohioans stopped by law enforcement for driving with marijuana in their system to attempt to demonstrate that marijuana usage did not impair their driving.

Senate Bill (SB) 26, sponsored by State Senator Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville), would allow individuals the possibility to avoid an Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence (OVI) even if they tested positive for marijuana by claiming they were sober. Manning told The Ohio Star that the legislation addresses the challenging science of marijuana use and how long it lingers in the body after any benefits have worn off.

The bill also emphasizes how challenging it is to enforce traffic regulations in a state where medical marijuana is legal and where lawmakers may implement adult-use programs in the future. According to Manning, to address worries that people may drive while high, numerous other states that have legalized marijuana have also established various OVI laws.

“We really want to get a good law in place where people are being punished if they are impaired, but they’re not being unfairly punished just because they have a certain amount of the drug in their system,” Manning told The Star.

Despite Manning’s introduction of the legislation during the previous General Assembly, lawmakers never considered it.

In Ohio, if police officers have probable cause to believe a driver is impaired, which is often established through roadside tests, they may detain the driver. A police officer subsequently gives an individual a drug and alcohol test by blood or urine. An individual is automatically guilty if they have a particular amount of the chemical in their system.

A “per se” law is one that assumes that drugs or alcohol would impair an individual, according to attorneys. In marijuana cases, Manning’s measure would do away with that requirement and allow people to refute the assumption that marijuana use impaired them. A jury or judge would ultimately determine an OVI conviction.

“We don’t want to make it to difficult but want the evidence to be the deciding field of a strong factor if someone is convicted of an OVI,” Manning told The Star.

According to Manning, current Ohio law technically prohibits users of medical marijuana from driving, even if they are not under the influence. This is because marijuana metabolites that are not active can linger in a user’s system for up to 30 days. With no method to demonstrate their sobriety, a person who last used marijuana up to a month ago could fail a drug test for metabolites and be charged with OVI. A single marijuana usage can result in a person failing a drug test for up to three days afterward. Manning continued that when these thresholds were initially established, the belief was that marijuana use was always prohibited, making any potential impairment irrelevant.

In a report to Congress, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration came to the conclusion that it is impossible to link impairment to a person’s THC intake because of the way the body metabolizes marijuana. The report states that there is no safe level of marijuana use that will always render a person impaired. Manning told The Star that taking into account all of the available information, including whether or not the person has any THC in their system, an impairment must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

“It is clear that Ohio must move on from strict per se offenses for marijuana impairment and instead consider marijuana impairment on a case-by-case basis. With the laws changing it’s time we update the code,” Manning told The Star.

A provision of Manning’s bill would require labs to exclusively test for delta-9 THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and give prosecutors the right to infer intoxication based on a specific delta-9 blood level. According to Manning, that clause is still up for debate.

Manning told The Star the legislation is simply about updating the OVI laws and making sure that they are fair for everyone; it is not about legalization or support of legalization for recreational marijuana use.

“If your impaired you should not be driving and you should be held accountable to that. However, marijuana is different. We are trying to get to that happy medium where we are punishing those impaired, but we don’t want people wrongfully punished because they tested over the limit but they definitely aren’t impaired. It’s about fairness. It’s updating the OVI laws. Not changing anything, just updating it over the years with medical marijuana changes and potential legislation. This isn’t about legalization or saying it’s okay it’s just about having our criminal and traffic laws being consistant in our state as medical marijuana is legal in our state,” Manning told The Star.

According to The Recovery Center, a study released in October 2012 found that individuals treated for addiction to marijuana had a higher mortality rate than those with diagnoses related to cocaine or alcohol but lower than those with methamphetamine or opioid-related disorders.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states that studies link marijuana use to depression, anxiety, suicide planning, and psychotic episodes. It remains unknown, however, if marijuana use is the cause of these conditions.

The Republican Study Committee (RSC), a 156-member GOP House Caucus, unveiled the Family Policy Agenda in September of last year, which includes a “danger of drugs” section entirely about cannabis legalization and how it leads to violent crime and suicide.

“Congress should not legalize marijuana, while also taking steps to constrain this new industry’s ability to harm children. At the very least, Congress should direct the CDC to gather data and conduct studies on the health impacts of THC use during childhood and early adolescence with a special focus on deaths by suicide and those involved in violent crime to provide Congress and the public with further information about these dangers,” the Family Policy Agenda reads.

In 2015, Ohio voters defeated an initiated constitutional amendment that would have legalized the limited sale and use of marijuana and created 10 facilities with exclusive commercial rights to grow marijuana. The vote margin was 63.65 percent to 36.35 percent. ResponsibleOhio PAC sponsored the initiative.

The conservative Center for Christian Virtue says it will fight efforts to legalize cannabis in Ohio. Its leader, Aaron Baer, said the group opposed the failed 2015 attempt to legalize pot and will fight again.

“The marijuana industry is not going to be able to fool another state, is not going to be able to fool Ohioans with their lies and their empty promises of what marijuana will do for our state. The tax revenue is not true. The harmless effect of it is not true. The reality, it brings devastation,” Baer said.

Governor Mike DeWine has already said that he will veto a measure to legalize marijuana, even if lawmakers do decide to pursue it this session.

Given the problems caused by other substances, such as driving under the influence, “I think it’s ridiculous to add an additional problem,” DeWine said.

In November, five Ohio cities approved local marijuana decriminalization ballot initiatives during the midterm election.

Marijuana and THC remain illegal at the federal level, even though many states have legalized their use.

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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Nathan Manning” by State Senator Nathan Manning. Background Photo “Car Pulled Over On the Side of the Road” by Ryan West.


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