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Ohio hemp legalization making marijuana arrests more difficult

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After Gov. Mike DeWine signed legislation that legalized the growing and selling of industrial hemp and hemp-based products, it will now be more difficult for police departments to arrest people for possessing marijuana.

Both hemp and marijuana come from cannabis, but hemp cannot be used to get high because of its very low THC levels. Senate Bill 57 legalizes hemp that has THC levels below 0.3 percent.

Although possessing cannabis with a THC level above that threshold is still illegal, Ohio crime labs can generally only test for a presence of THC, but not how much THC the plant contains. This means that police departments will have a very difficult time proving that someone possesses an illegal product unless the police send it to an out-of-state lab that has better technology.

Because of these complications, the city of Columbus has dropped all of its pending marijuana cases and has chosen to stop prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana.

“The passage of Senate Bill 57 requires a distinction between hemp and marijuana, but our current drug testing technology is not able to differentiate, so we will not have the evidence required to prosecute these cases,” Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein said in a news release.

“As we continue to review these policies, SB 57 has opened up a broader conversation about how we should prosecute minor misdemeanor marijuana possession cases in the future,” Klein said. “Considering the substantial cost of new equipment and testing versus the possible benefit of prosecuting these often-dismissed cases, in addition to the recent ordinance passed by Columbus City Council, we plan on engaging in further discussions on whether to make this new policy permanent.”

Despite not prosecuting the crime, smoking marijuana will still be illegal and could be a legal reason to stop and search someone, according to the news release.