Medical marijuana patients arrested on drug charges in Ohio
A handful of states will be voting on marijuana initiatives this November. In more than half the country, medical marijuana is already legal.
In some states that have legalized it, patients can still be arrested and charged even though a doctor recommends they use medical marijuana.
On Halloween night, Glenn Keeling and his wife, Peggy Sue Kimmel, got more than a scare.
The Drug Task Force was at their door in rural Ohio with a warrant.
Both Keeling, who has Crohn’s Disease, and Kimmel, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, were using medical marijuana. When they tried to show their medical marijuana cards, issued by an Ohio doctor to police, it didn’t matter.
“He says, ‘well there’s no medical program in Ohio, I don’t care about your card,’” Keeling said.
Now both are facing a judge on more than a dozen drug charges, which could mean decades in prison.
“I would not ever break the law on purpose of any kind,” Kimmel said.
On an interstate near Toledo in February four people from Cincinnati faced a similar fate after a traffic stop led to the discovery of pounds of medical marijuana.
All of them had medical marijuana cards and all of them were arrested.
Now, they too face felonies and serious time in prison.
“We’re facing 33 years in prison,” said Deron Elliot.
Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, but in seven of these states, the medical marijuana programs are not officially up-and-running.
Until they are, medical marijuana is still illegal even if patients don’t know that.
Chris Lindsey, an attorney with the Marijuana Policy Project, says most patients have no idea that medical marijuana in states that legalized it was still illegal when they were arrested.
“People get a false sense of security,” he said.
Patients are also being told by lawmakers and doctors they’re protected by something called an Affirmative Defense, a legal concept that you can’t be charged for a crime under an old law, if a new one makes it legal.
“It’s a defense to a criminal charge,” Lindsey explained.
There’s no guarantee an Affirmative Defense will work for everyone, which means patients can still be arrested.