An untested loophole opened by a year-old policy change could hamper small Ohio law enforcement agencies’ ability to enforce minor misdemeanor marijuana laws.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation stopped testing minor misdemeanor quantities of marijuana last March.
Many times, an arrest for such a small amount of marijuana ends with a plea deal and never sees trial.
Of the few that do make it to trial, area municipal court judges say no defendant in their experience has ever contested that the substance found was not marijuana.
But since BCI stopped conducting the test for free, a defense has opened that has local police worried.
“It’s a concern, because we don’t want to lose the case because BCI refuses to do the test,” Whitehouse deputy police chief Todd Kitzler said.
Possessing less than 100 grams of marijuana — about 3.5 ounces — is classified as a minor misdemeanor. The penalty for conviction is a maximum $150 fine and a discretionary driver’s license suspension.
Typically, someone is cited rather than arrested, leaving them the option to plead guilty and pay the fine without appearing in court, but that does not change the standard of evidence needed for a conviction.
“Whether it’s a minor misdemeanor case or an aggravated murder case, the standard that must be established by the state to prove a case beyond the reasonable doubt is exactly the same,” Maumee Municipal Court Judge Gary Byers said.
Officers typically use a basic field drug test to confirm that a substance is marijuana, but that test only establishes probable cause. Further testing would be needed for evidence to rise to the higher standard needed for conviction. An officer can be certified through a two-day Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy course, but Waterville Township Police Chief Richard Bingham is unsure that