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What do Marijuana, School Loans and Driving Have in Common?

Sounds like a bad joke. But to many, it’s not funny at all.

Under Ohio law, it’s a crime to possess marijuana and other controlled drugs. The good news is that possession of marijuana in small amounts is only a misdemeanor. Small enough amounts, it’s only a minor misdemeanor (the same as a jay walking violation). Possession of paraphernalia (the pipe used to smoke it) is also a lower level misdemeanor. For obvious reasons, we often see both charges together.

Great. So back to the riddle. What does this have to do with school loans and driving?

What many marijuana users don’t always realize is that these offenses result in some mandatory consequences that are completely unrelated to the crime.

A drug conviction, for instance, can result in a disqualification of federal student loans. Imagine the college student getting caught with a little weed. He doesn’t want to tell mom and dad, so he goes to court alone, pleads guilty, and pays his fine. But what he doesn’t know is that his federal loans are now in jeopardy. Now mom and dad will find out for sure. He can’t pay for college and ends up taking a year off from school.

Why? Because the feds say so. These provisions are spelled out in the small print somewhere. But few really are aware of these consequences.

There is another hidden “gotcha”–Driving privileges. Say a person is charged with possessing pot and a pipe. He goes to court without an Ohio criminal defense attorney, thinking it’s only a misdemeanor. The prosecutor agrees to drop the pot charge if the guy pleads guilty to the paraphernalia. What he doesn’t know is that there is a mandatory drivers license suspension if found guilty of either.

“But wait,” he says, “I wasn’t even driving when I got caught.”

It doesn’t matter. Even in a case totally unrelated to driving, there is a minimum six month suspension. Ohio law lets the judge grant limited work privileges. But that is no guarantee. Some courts refuse privileges, even for work. Now the simple case just got really complicated.

Take this a step further. Under Ohio law, it’s now a crime to drive with marijuana in the bloodstream. So, consider a driver pulled over for suspected OVI. He only had one drink at dinner. Thinking he will be fine, he agrees to take a blood alcohol test. He was right. His alcohol level is well below the limit. But he forgot about the joint he puffed during a concert a few weeks back. The marijuana shows up in the blood test, and he now faces a per se OVI charge for driving with marijuana in his blood.

This doesn’t add up. He wasn’t high when he was driving. But Ohio law doesn’t care. He is guilty of OVI even though they can’t prove when he smoked the pot. Why? Because the Ohio General Assembly thought it was a good idea.

There is a moral here. Never assume a criminal charge is no big deal. Many courts will let people fall into these traps without warning.

As Ohio criminal defense lawyers, we get calls all the time from people who need help fixing these problems. And often we can. But by then it is far more complicated and a lot more expensive. It’s best to get in front of these problems at the beginning. They are easier to avoid now than to fix later.

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