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Hemp Legalization and Implications on Marijuana Law Enforcement and Prosecution

As of July 30, 2019, hemp became legal in the State of Ohio. The difference between marijuana and hemp could be an important legal defense in drug trafficking and drug possession cases.

What is hemp? Like marijuana, hemp is a species of cannabis but has different properties than marijuana. Hemp is used for construction materials, fabrics and clothing, animal bedding, and potentially a cover crop for farmers. 

Perhaps the most important difference between hemp and marijuana, however, is the fact marijuana contains more tetrahydrocannabinol ("THC") than hemp. THC, of course, is the part of the cannabis plant that produces a psychoactive effect in individuals. Hemp, on the other hand, does not have enough THC to cause someone to be impaired or get 'high.' In fact, the law now defines hemp as cannabis containing no more than .3% THC.

This new definition of hemp creates a tricky conundrum for the prosecution of marijuana laws. Because of this new definition, marijuana cannot be identified by historical techniques. Now, a quantitative analysis is necessary to ensure the THC content exceeds the statutory .3% level; otherwise, there is no way to identify it as hemp, a legal substance, as opposed to marijuana, an illegal substance.

Currently, there are no crime labs in Ohio able to perform a sufficient analysis. As a result, prosecutors throughout many jurisdictions in Ohio-including Joe Deters of Cincinnati-have issued statements confirming they may not be able to prosecute marijuana offenses until crime labs are able to differentiate between the crops.

While the legalization of hemp has clearly thrown a curveball to prosecutors and law enforcement throughout Ohio, it is important to remember that even though marijuana offenses may not be prosecuted at the present time in some jurisdictions, marijuana is still illegal under state and federal law. Therefore, a police officer can still search individuals suspected of possessing it and confiscate the suspected marijuana if found and a person possessing marijuana can be prosecuted at a later date.

If you or someone you know has been charged with any drug related offense, feel free to contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Rittgers & Rittgers for a free consultation. 

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