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Medical marijuana 101: What's legal, what's not and what's ahead

CINCINNATI - New laws hit the books in Ohio on Thursday legalizing medical marijuana, raising a host of questions for consumers, business owners and doctors across the region.

So what exactly changes this week? 

“Not much,” said Douglas Berman, a professor at The Ohio State University who teaches a marijuana law class.

“People who are eager to believe that now a whole lot more stuff is going to be legal in Ohio should tread cautiously,” Berman said.  “This drug is still federally illegal, and someone who thinks they can drive up to Michigan and buy a whole bunch of medical marijuana and start selling it in Ohio – they’re probably going to get the feds' attention.”

While Ohio’s law does establish an “affirmative defense” that goes into place Thursday for patients who have a qualifying medical condition and written permission from their doctor, rules still haven’t been written for where medical pot can be legally grown and purchased in the state.

“The important thing to remember is this (affirmative defense) doesn’t mean you can’t be prosecuted,” Berman said. “It just means if you are, this is the defense you can use in court to ask a judge to dismiss the complaint. It doesn’t mean you avoid the hassle of the courts.”

Under the law, Ohio’s new medical marijuana program will be developed through nearly two years of rule making by various state departments that will determine who can grow the drug, process it, test it and sell it to consumers. 

If all goes as planned, lawmakers say the full program should be up and running by 2018.