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Denied Medicine As A Punishment: Cannabis And Parole

This article was originally published on The Cannigma, and appears here with permission.

If you’re a medical marijuana patient and you receive probation or are released on parole, will you still be legally allowed to use your medicine? It depends on where you live, and the answer is even more complicated by the conflict between the majority of states that allow medical marijuana and federal law, which still bans any use of cannabis. 

Earlier this month, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that a woman with a legal medical marijuana card issued by the commonwealth could not use cannabis while on probation for a charge of misappropriation of postal funds — a federal crime. According to PennLive.com, presiding U.S. Middle District Judge Mattthew W. Brann said that “from what he has read the medical benefits of marijuana have not been studied sufficiently.”

Much like medical marijuana laws across the country, there is no single nationwide policy regarding the use of cannabis for people on probation or parole. (Illustrative photo by Katarzyna Białasiewicz/123rf)

The plaintiff, Melissa Gass, uses medical cannabis to treat her epileptic seizures. “I went from having multiple seizures a day to having one every few months,” she said of her cannabis treatment in a press release at the time the lawsuit was filed. “Medical marijuana has been a lifesaver for me. This policy is a cruel blow.”

Upon receiving her medical marijuana ID card in February 2019, the lawsuit says she used Rick Simpson oil to end her seizures “almost instantaneously.” Seven months later, when her probation officer told her that she could not use medical marijuana, she stopped immediately, and had approximately 20 seizures over the next two weeks, according to the lawsuit. 

Often the argument made for restricting access to medical marijuana is that while it may be legal in the state in question, it is still illegal on the federal level. The rationale being that someone should be required to follow all state and federal laws if they are under government supervision 

In October, 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of three medical marijuana patients, challenging a policy of the Lebanon County court that prohibits people on probation who are registered medical marijuana patients from using their medication. The ACLU said that this policy — and that of other counties in Pennsylvania — contradict the commonwealth’s medical marijuana law, which legalized cannabis for medical purposes in 2016.

“Barring individuals who have been certified by a state-authorized physician from accessing medication to treat their serious medical conditions creates severe and potentially life-threatening medical risks,” the ACLU wrote, noting that there is no prohibition banning people on probation or parole from using opioids, even as the commonwealth has stated that “the opioid overdose epidemic is the worst public health crisis in Pennsylvania, and the nation, in almost a generation.” 

The lawsuit was submitted a month after the Lebanon County court announced that people on probation, parole, or accelerated rehabilitative