With Medical Marijuana Soon to Arrive in Ohio, Defense Attorneys Argue State's Marijuana DUI Limit is Too Low


Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program, created after House Bill 523 was passed in September 2016, has already accepted and activated thousands of registry cards in its first weeks since going live at the beginning of the month. Sometime in the next two months, the program will officially oversee the legal purchase and sale of medical marijuana by licensed dispensaries in the state.

While many Ohioans are anxiously anticipating the arrival of a medicinal cannabis system, others, including criminal defense attorneys and marijuana advocates, are concerned that the state’s current DUI laws will create potential problems for patients.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the current Ohio law for marijuana DUI:

  • In Ohio, statutory law outlines legal limits for driving under the influence of drugs. Similar to OVI / DUI cases involving alcohol, these legal limits are a minimum threshold that, when detected, can subject motorists to criminal charges and penalties.
  • Currently, the legal limit for a marijuana DUI in Ohio is 35 nanograms of marijuana metabolites per ml of urine, or 50 nanograms of marijuana metabolites per ml of blood.

The problem, as has been documented by many scientists, advocates, and defense attorneys in states across the U.S. for years, stems from the difficulty of accurately assessing when a motorist is considered “too high” to drive. Unlike alcohol and the .08 legal limit for DUI, tests of blood and urine that show a presence of marijuana metabolites do not necessarily indicate a driver is actually intoxicated or impaired at the time, nor that they are “too intoxicated” to operate a vehicle.

According to researchers and scientists, marijuana metabolites and other elements of marijuana can remain in a person’s body in measurable amounts for days or even weeks. As such, those who use marijuana on a regular basis, which may be the case for many medical marijuana patients, could be above the legal limit perpetually – or at least have test results that exceed the legal limit even when they are not under the influence or have not recently consumed marijuana.

That problem is a major concern, as it could expose innocent motorists to criminal charges and serious criminal penalties – which can include hefty fines, driver’s license suspensions, and potential terms of imprisonment.

Attorney Brad Koffel Weighs In

A recent article from The Columbus Dispatch discusses the issue defense attorneys are raising when it comes to the inaccuracy of Ohio’s marijuana DUI limit, and mentions one noteworthy case handled by our firm’s Founding Partner Brad Koffel involving Ohio State Quarterback Troy Smith. In that case, Attorney Koffel argued that although a urine test showed the presence of marijuana metabolites, the level was not high enough to prove Smith was intoxicated.

Defense attorneys nationwide, and especially those practicing in states with legal recreational or medicinal marijuana, make similar arguments regarding legal limits for marijuana DUIs. In Ohio, attorneys are also calling attention to the fact that the current limit was set by the Ohio General Assembly in 2005, when marijuana was illegal in the state for all purposes. Even after a committee composed of doctors and law enforcement acknowledged marijuana metabolites can stay in a person’s system for days, and that there’s no clear level of impairment when it comes to marijuana DUI, the committee and lawmakers felt a tough approach to driving under the influence was warranted.

Challenging Marijuana DUI Allegations in Ohio

Though advocates claim the outdated and scientifically inaccurate nature of Ohio’s marijuana DUI limit should be enough to prompt the development of new standards and ways of testing, it remains unclear as to whether lawmakers actually will. In the meantime, medical marijuana patients should be aware of the risks they face when it comes to potential investigations and arrests involving marijuana DUI – as well as the need to challenge accusations based on inaccurate science.

Koffel Brininger Nesbitt is one of only four firms in the state of Ohio ranked among the “Tier 1 Best Law Firms” by US News for OVI / DUI defense. Over the years, our award-winning attorneys have seen the evolution of marijuana laws, research, and their implications in criminal law matters involving driving under the influence. Though difficulties remain when it comes to adopting better legislation, motorists facing marijuana DUI charges should know they don’t have to plead guilty simply because the law is inaccurate – defendants have the right to challenge the government’s case against them, and the right to work with proven lawyers like those at Koffel Brininger Nesbitt when doing so.

If you have a marijuana DUI case or any other OVI / DUI or criminal matter in Columbus or the surrounding areas of Ohio, call (614) 675-4845 or contact us for a free case evaluation.