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Photo illustration of a bag of marijuana and lighters. (By The Photo Staff)

Marijuana remains illegal, not law-enforcement’s priority in Athens

Possessing marijuana in the city of Athens has been depenalized since 2017, which has since influenced the prioritization local law enforcement agencies place in charging individuals with possession. 

In 2017, the city of Athens voted with a nearly 78% majority to de-penalize the possession of marijuana, Law Director Lisa Eliason said. By voting in favor of the Athens Cannabis Ordinance, voters chose to reduce the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana charges to the lowest penalty allowed by state law.

The ordinance was passed following the passing of Ohio House Bill 52 in 2016, which authorizes the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Marijuana can be purchased from dispensaries with a medical card for the treatment of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, cancer, chronic pain and Tourette’s Syndrome.

In the state of Ohio, only the possession of medical marijuana is deemed legal, according to the Ohio Revised Code. However, the federal Farm Bill, which was passed in 2018, removed hemp and other derivatives of cannabis with low concentrations of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act, according to the FDA

When the Farm Bill passed, stores nationwide started introducing compliant products, such as vape cartridges and edibles, AJ Rose, a Silver Serpent employee, said.

Hemp products can be sold over the counter at smoke shops like the Silver Serpent if they contain less than 0.3% of THC, Rose said. Any hemp product that contains more than the 0.3% dry weight of Delta-9, would be considered marijuana, deeming it illegal. 

When consumed in large amounts, compliant products produce a “high.” The difference between hemp containing Delta-9 and marijuana is that the effects do not last as long and are milder, Rose said.

Because Ohio University falls under state property, students can still be penalized under the Ohio Revised Code and not the city of Athens, Eliason said.

The Ohio University Student Code of Conduct also prohibits the possession and distribution of marijuana, and students who violate the code may face potential suspension and expulsion from the university.

Ohio University Police Department Staff Lieutenant Tim Ryan said although the department follows the Ohio Revised Code, identifying and charging students and non-students with the possession of marijuana on campus property is not a priority for the department.

“We don't ignore the law,” Ryan said. “When we come in contact with it, either when someone calls and complains or because we happen to find it, obviously we conduct our investigation and take whatever appropriate action that might be.”

Outside of OU’s campus and within Athens, the fine for knowingly possessing marijuana in an amount less than 200 grams is $0, Athens Police Department Chief Tom Pyle said. Possessing marijuana is still a criminal violation, but there are no court fees or fines.

“There’s just no practical reason to enforce a law that has zero penalty,” Pyle said.

If found at a party or outside, APD staff will most likely take the contraband and destroy it without citing the individual, Pyle said.

Athens County Sheriff Rodney Smith said the Athens County Sheriff’s Office also follows the Ohio Revised Code, but marijuana possession is not a concern.

“(Marijuana) possession is nothing that we would be really concerned about because we're going to exhaust all of our resources on the harder drugs, the meth, cocaine, mushrooms, fentanyl, which are killing people all the time,” Smith said.

When charges are filed for the possession of marijuana, each department, APD, OUPD, and the Sheriff’s Office, is typically citing the person for another violation, and not actively seeking it out.

When Ohio made possession of hemp legal, charges for the possession of marijuana have become less frequent because there is no difference in field testing for hemp and marijuana, Eliason said. 

Although county-wide marijuana is not the focal-point drug of law enforcement agencies, Smith said people who use it should be aware that it can sometimes be laced with more dangerous drugs.

“Marijuana has been laced with fentanyl, which makes it very dangerous,” Smith said. “That's one thing I would caution people of — know what you're getting.”



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