Should Medical Marijuana Be Illegal for Patients on Probation?

When someone is charged with a criminal offense, probation is almost always part of the sentence.  An opportunity for law enforcement to monitor activities to deter a repeat offense.  It is meant to be a rehabilitation period for the citizens, too—a chance to return to a law-abiding lifestyle. 

Understandably, terms of probation include abstinence from drugs.  That includes alcohol and cannabis.  People on probation have to submit to drug testing every month.  For individuals who have addiction problems, probation can help them remove drugs from the equation.  

But what if the individual has a painful chronic condition?  What generally happens is that the individual may not be able to use prescription NSAIDs or opioids on probation.  And if they happen to live in a legalized state and have a medical card? They are also barred from using medical cannabis for the entire probationary period.

Is that fair? Many people think that depriving someone of medication they need to address pain or debilitating symptoms is unconstitutional. Many people with chronic pain, for example, cannot participate in activities of daily living without medication.  Either from a pharmacy or their local medical dispensary. 

No Controlled Substances in Jail (But What About Home Use?)

Naturally, using controlled substances while incarcerated is prohibited. Even in states where medical and adult-use cannabis is legalized.  Institutions fall under federal jurisdiction, and cannabis remains a Schedule II drug on the Controlled Substances Act. 

But what happens when the individual returns home to serve their probation?  Should they continue to be barred from using medical cannabis for health needs? Doing time for a criminal charge is punishment enough. 

When former felons return home, they start the complicated process of putting their lives back together—securing a new job.  Sometimes, finding a new place to live.  Finances are often precarious for people on probation, and “getting back to normal” is a high priority for them. But are they able to do that if they are suffering from uncontrolled chronic pain?  Or mental health symptoms such as severe anxiety or depression?

Some legal advocates are questioning the issue right now.  And so are communities across the country.  It is in the best interest of the citizen and society to help them rehabilitate successfully.  But are prohibition laws for probation antiquated?  The rules may be creating a situation where former felons are being disadvantaged from day one of their probation. 

Put another way, are we setting citizens released from incarceration up to fail? Or creating a situation that increases their risk of reoffending because the drug-free probation requirement deprives them of vital health resources?  

What Happens When Patients Are Deprived of Medication?

When you suffer from chronic pain, nausea, or mental health disorders, finding a way to manage, the symptoms becomes a top priority.  In most cases, medical cannabis or prescription medications do not completely resolve the symptoms.  The drugs simply make it more manageable so that the patient can be functional. 

It is rare that prescription or natural medications completely resolve symptoms. It’s a myth. But the reduction in pain or inflammation and other symptoms can be enough to make it through the day.  To keep your job and stay gainfully employed. And to moderate your mood around friends and family. 

Unmanaged symptoms impact every domain of everyday life. Researchers from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine published a 2013 report.  They discovered that chronic unresolved pain could permanently alter brain circuitry.  A constant state of pain that is not controlled can lead to a faster loss of gray matter. Or a shrinking of the brain.  It also reduces the brain’s ability to release its pain-reducing hormones like dopamine and testosterone, which are natural analgesics. 

Patients deprived of pain therapies can also develop tertiary problems such as mobility issues, malnutrition, and lack of coordination.  This can significantly impact independence and increase falling injuries. New impairments can also worsen mental health disorders like PTSD, depression, and anxiety. 

Legal Precedent  Set in Colorado for Probationers with Medical Cards 

The Colorado Supreme Court determined that medical marijuana should be okay for use during probation.  Under specific terms and restrictions.  For instance, an individual sentenced to probation may not be legally permitted to apply for a medical card.  However, if they had a medical marijuana card before their conviction, it may be allowed. 

The probation statutes in Colorado were amended to accommodate the legalization of medical cannabis.  Even though other states have not followed suit, the legislation provides an example of how it may be administered. 

“require that the defendant . . . [r]efrain from . . . any unlawful use of controlled substances, as defined in section CRS 18-18-102(5), or of any other dangerous or abusable drug without a prescription; except that the court shall not, as a condition of probation, prohibit the possession or use of medical marijuana, as authorized pursuant to section 14 of article XVIII of the state constitution, unless . . .

(B) The court determines, based on any material evidence, that a prohibition against the possession or use of medical marijuana is necessary and appropriate to accomplish the goals of sentencing as stated in section CRS 18-1-102.5.”

If you have a pending charge and court date, and you have a medical card, there are some steps you should take. First, you should discuss your medical cannabis use and status as a registered patient with your attorney.  Second, you should make sure that you renew your medical card before your conviction.  Renewals can be declined because of a criminal charge, depending on the jurisdiction.

Providing documentation from your primary care provider regarding your qualifying health condition is essential. It can help you petition the court to continue accessing medical cannabis for your wellness treatments.  And suppose your health conditions (without medical cannabis) may prohibit you from employment or daily living activities. In that case, you will want to present that information to the court, too, at the time of sentencing. 

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