It’s a new year, and Ohio has a new marijuana law that legalizes recreational cannabis.
While using marijuana is now legal for adults in the state, driving under the influence of the drug is not. In fact, despite the new law, Ohio has existing laws that make it illegal for someone to drive with certain amounts of marijuana or marijuana metabolites in their system.
The effects of marijuana are different than those of alcohol but can still impair driving ability. Some studies have shown a link between marijuana legalization and higher crash rates.
Ohio is the 24th State to Legalize Cannabis
Ohio rolled out the licensed sale of medical cannabis in 2019. In November 2023, Ohio voters approved Issue 2, making the Buckeye State the 24th to legalize adult-use marijuana. The recreational marijuana law took effect on December 7, 2023.
Under the new law, Ohioans aged 21 and older may possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants. Adult use sales are still being worked out by the state’s cannabis regulatory agency, with the final rules for sales and other provisions, such as advertising and taxation, still under consideration.
Marijuana and Vehicle Accidents
The link between marijuana and driving in Ohio is, legally speaking, very straightforward. Testing positive above statutorily determined THC levels is enough to get arrested and charged with DUI. But exactly how marijuana affects driving ability is less clear.
Since the start of the wave of marijuana legalization that has swept across America, more research has been done on the effects of being stoned behind the wheel. Some of these studies have shown an increase in crash rates and crash fatalities in states with legalized cannabis markets.
Marijuana vs. Alcohol
Marijuana is often compared to alcohol because they are the two most widely consumed mind-altering substances, and the substances most likely to be at issue in an OVI or DUI. In Canada, where recreational cannabis became legal in 2018, there is evidence that stoned driving is more dangerous than drunk driving.
The THC in marijuana has been found to impair psychomotor skills and cognitive functioning, impede the ability to multitask, disrupt lane tracking, and slow reaction times, all of which can impact driving ability.
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, driving while high doubles the chances of a crash. And an NHTSA study found that marijuana users are about 25 percent more likely to be involved in a car crash than drivers with no evidence of marijuana use.
THC affects users differently than alcohol. When used together, the two substances may worsen driving performance more than either substance used separately.
Another difference between alcohol and THC is their perceived safety. People generally admit that alcohol impairs their driving. But surveys and focus groups have shown that many marijuana users believe the drug doesn’t impair their driving. Some even believe it improves their driving.
THC and Accident Liability
It may be fair to question if a person who tests positive for marijuana is actually impaired. THC can be detected in the body for days, weeks, and even months, so a driver can test positive but not be actively under the influence. This can make it difficult to determine whether a positive result for THC is indicative of driving performance. However, if a driver tests positive for THC after a crash, this could be evidence of impaired driving as a contributing factor to the accident.
Ohio Drugged Driving and Marijuana OVI Per Se Levels
Even as lawmakers grapple with changes to Issue 2, the new law does not change laws currently on the books related to marijuana and driving.
Ohio has what’s known as “OVI per se” laws. A person is guilty of OVI in Ohio if they operate a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or a “drug of abuse,” including marijuana, above established thresholds.
Drivers with detectable levels of THC, or THC metabolite, in their blood or urine can be arrested and charged with OVI. The penalties for marijuana OVI conviction can include loss of licenses, jail time, and a fine.
Although the new Ohio marijuana law does not technically affect per se marijuana driving laws, the application of the current case law has changed and lawmakers are proposing legislation to change the current state of the law.
Anyone charged with a marijuana DUI should promptly contact a criminal defense lawyer at Graham Law to discuss possible defenses.
Here to Help You Navigate Changing Ohio Marijuana Laws
Ohio residents overwhelmingly agreed to legalize recreational marijuana. But the state’s marijuana laws are a work in progress. Legalization is likely to affect personal injury and criminal law cases in ways that are not entirely predictable.