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In Ohio, Medical Marijuana and Driving Don’t Necessarily Mix

August 6, 2019 • Lakewood Medical • Marijuana Laws

You might rely on your primary care provider for practically everything pertaining to your health, but they probably won’t be the person who gives you a medical marijuana recommendation. Here’s why. In December of 2018, Ohio approved its very first medical marijuana dispensary, marking the first step towards real access to cannabis since it was legalized for medical usage in the summer of 2016. But while the question of legalization has now been settled, it has raised some more complicated issues from a law enforcement perspective, including that of driving under the influence of medical cannabis. Defense attorneys in Ohio are worried that the current legal driving limit for medical marijuana is too low, and will effectively bar anyone who uses cannabis from getting behind the wheel even when its effects have worn off. There’s plenty of evidence in support of this argument, and progress on this front may be soon to come. But for the time being, the smart thing to do for those with a medical cannabis prescription is to stay off the roads while taking their medication.

How Marijuana’s Influence Is Measured

The obvious precedent for limiting the influence of a drug while on the road is alcohol. Drunk driving is illegal in all 50 states, and the law defines illegal intoxication as a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher. BAC is a reliable measure of intoxication, provided that the test is administered correctly with a breathalyzer, a blood sample, or a urine sample. Ohio state law currently uses a similar system for measuring the presence of marijuana in drivers’ systems, using the presence of marijuana metabolites in a person’s urine or blood to define the legal limits for driving under the drug’s influence. Marijuana metabolites are byproducts of the body’s efforts to process the THC in cannabis. Ohio prohibits anyone with 35 nanograms of marijuana metabolites per millimeter or more in their urine, or with 50 metabolites per millimeter or more in their bloodstream, from operating a vehicle. 

Why Measurement Is Legally Tricky

But some experts contend that these metabolites aren’t nearly as good a metric of marijuana’s effects as BAC is of alcohol’s. For one thing, metabolites are known to stay in the urine and blood of users for days after consuming the drug, meaning drivers could be arrested for driving under the influence long after the effects of their medication have dissipated. “If you’re a chronic user, [marijuana] stays in [your blood and urine] for a long time,” Professor at OSU’s College of Pharmacy Alfred Staubus told the Columbus Times-Dispatch. Because marijuana has only recently been legalized in states across the country, little long-term research exists on the way our bodies process the drug, and it’s known that the drug affects every individual differently. As a result, an alternative to the measurement of metabolites isn’t immediately obvious. Some might argue that THC is a better metric, as it’s the psychoactive component of cannabis and only stays in the body for a few hours. But regardless of how viable the criticisms of Ohio’s policy may be, it isn’t going to change in the immediate future. State representative Nathan Manning told the Times-Dispatch that the law might be reviewed again this year, but that lawmakers will likely err on the side of caution rather than “be dismissive of the fact that you can’t be impaired.”

Our Recommendation: Don’t Drive While Taking Marijuana

To that end, we recommend that Ohioans who currently have or are seeking out a prescription for medical marijuana do not get behind the wheel while actively taking their medication. This is the recommendation for many prescription medications that may affect balance, coordination, reaction time, or mental state, and medical cannabis is no exception.  If you have questions about medical marijuana and how regular use might affect your daily commute or your ability to drive, feel free to reach out to the trained experts at Lakewood Medical Clinic. Schedule a consultation with us today to learn more about the practical considerations involved in getting a medical marijuana prescription, and whether cannabis may be the right course of treatment for you and your medical condition.