Ohio Supreme Court looks to clarify medical marijuana laws for attorneys

Published: Aug. 17, 2016 at 3:34 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 17, 2016 at 6:20 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Ohio's medical marijuana laws have been causing some consternation for lawyers, who are worried that assisting clients in establishing or buying from medical marijuana distribution centers could land them in hot water with the federal government. The Ohio Supreme Court is hoping to help clear up some of their concerns with an amendment to the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct which would clarify the services attorneys can legally offer to clients looking to establish a medical marijuana business.

Governor John Kasich signed a bill authorizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes and establishing the Medical Marijuana Control program on June 8.  According to the 126-page bill, patients can get doctor approval for medical marijuana, who will then send an application to the state. If approved, the patient and/or caregiver will get an identification card.

However, the bill has some confusing contradictions. You can possess and use marijuana when purchased from a legal dispensary, but, even though the law goes into effect on Sept. 8, those dispensaries won't be set up for at least a year, and many cities are scrambling to prevent dispensaries from popping up in their borders. Lawmakers suggest that medical marijuana users travel to other states where dispensaries are set up, like Michigan or Colorado, and bring the drug back with them, but lawyers have said that this would violate state and federal laws. And, even if you have your doctor's permission to use medical marijuana, your employer can still fire or discipline you for testing positive for the drug.

One other area of concern has arisen for lawyers. By their professional code, lawyers are not allowed to advise their clients to engage in any illegal activity. Medical marijuana use and distribution, while now legal in Ohio under the state's regulations, is still illegal under federal law, which makes assisting clients under Ohio's new law a grey area for attorneys.

The issue, which has been faced by attorneys in many states that have legalized medical marijuana, was brought up in an opinion from the Board of Professional Conduct released on Aug. 5.

The Supreme Court announced Wednesday that it would prepare a draft amendment aimed at clarifying this gray area.

"Although non-binding, the Court is aware that the advisory opinion has led some lawyers to question whether they can assist clients in complying with the new law," Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor said. "The Court hopes to act expeditiously in addressing their concerns and, if necessary, amend ethics rules to clarify the role of attorneys in light of the new law."

"Again, the Court intends to act as swiftly as possible," she added. "However, we do not want to rush the process to the point of creating additional problems."

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