ZACH CORREIA, News Editor—Hemp is legal nationwide through the 2018 farm bill but marijuana is still considered illegal at the federal level. Both are still enforced as a policy violation at Denison.
Scientifically, both hemp and marijuana are the same species: Cannabis Sativa. Visually, both substances can look the same. Legally, hemp is a cannabis plant with less than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (aka THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets someone high) present in the plant.
Hemp procession was legalized nationwide by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill. In July 2019, the state of Ohio enshrined the legalization hemp into state law removing penalties for possession.
One of the issues that have resulted from this is that law enforcement agencies, including Campus Safety, are unable to tell the difference between illegal marijuana from legal hemp without lab testing to determine the THC content of the substance. In August, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost notified prosecutors to hold off on marijuana indictments until labs can test potential marijuana. That same month the city of Columbus announced they will hold off on prosecuting marijuana misdemeanor charges.
But before you go toking thinking you can use the defense that “it is just hemp,” Denison has taken a different approach with treating hemp and marijuana the same on campus.
Chief of Campus Safety, Jim O’Neill said that “We are not going to change our approach [to marijuana enforcement]… When the burden of proof is a preponderance of evidence which basically says, well it smells like weed, and they are acting high and they are smoking it, not weaving a rug out of it, maybe [it’s] marijuana instead of hemp.”
For an example, when asked the question of whether a person could at noon go in front of Slayter and smoke a hemp joint, Chief O’Neill said that Campus Safety would “take action on the scene, allow that go through the process and if there was through the internal adjudication of the case if there was an indication that maybe we need to adjust out practices then we would. We are going to let the process define our procedure instead of the other way around.”
However, Chief O’Neill did say that the totality of the circumstances of discovery by Campus Safety would determine action.
“If we are unlocking someone’s door… and there[’s] no reason to think anything has been going on and we stumble across things… it’s a different story,” said O’Neill. On the opposite side of the potential marijuana possession spectrum, O’Neil went on to say “If we stumble into a room and there is a five-foot bong in there and Grateful Dead posters we’re going to take a little different approach.”
Lena Crain, Associate Dean of Students and director of The Office of Community Values & Conflict Resolution, echoed Chief O’Neill’s in an emailed statement saying “[He] is correct that the University’s approach to addressing behavior has not changed.”
Until university policy changes, hemp will be treated the same as marijuana and up to the conflict resolution process to weed out the facts.