Medical Pot for Patients on Probation: Bill Headed to Governor's Desk

Leonard Watkins as seen in a 2010 9News report.
Leonard Watkins as seen in a 2010 9News report.

Leonard Watkins is both a medical marijuana patient and a convicted child molester — and when he challenged the State of Colorado to court, arguing that he should be allowed to use MMJ while on probation, the state won.

Earlier this year, a bill to reverse this decision was introduced at the Colorado General Assembly, and it's now been approved by both houses of the state legislature — a development that thrills an advocate who's been fighting for the change. She urges Governor John Hickenlooper to sign the proposal.

As we've reported, Watkins was put on probation in Arapahoe County as a result of a 2005 conviction involving sexual assault on a child.

Nonetheless, a judge had sanctioned his use of MMJ, much to the chagrin of then-18th Judicial District DA Carol Chambers.

Former district attorney Carol Chambers at a 2012 press conference.
Former district attorney Carol Chambers at a 2012 press conference.

In an e-mail statement, Chambers wrote, "Does anyone think it's a good idea to allow a convicted sex offender to get high? People on probation have admitted to violating the law. There are different public safety concerns and different laws that apply to them than apply to the rest of the community."

Chambers's office subsequently appealed the decision allowing cannabis medication.

Before the Colorado Court of Appeals, Watkins's legal team argued that Amendment 20, the 2000 measure that legalized medical marijuana in Colorado, "is paramount and necessarily prevails" over probation rules that forbid him from using or possessing "any narcotic, dangerous or abusable substance without a prescription."

To that, the judges wrote, "We are not persuaded." Here's their elaboration on the point, contained in an original court document on view below:

The Amendment provides that it shall be an exception from the state's criminal laws for any patient in lawful possession of a "registry identification card" to use marijuana for medical purposes.... Under the Amendment, however, a physician does not prescribe marijuana, but may only provide "written documentation" stating that the patient has a debilitating medical condition and might benefit from the medical use of marijuana... Therefore, defendant's physician's certification does not constitute a "written lawful prescription" as required by the terms of his probation.

Representative Joe Salazar.
Representative Joe Salazar.
YouTube file photo

House Bill 15-1267 is sponsoring Representative Joe Salazar's attempt to fix this situation. We've included that document here as well, but here's its brief summary:

Under current law, a person on probation is prohibited from committing another offense. The possession and use of marijuana is an offense under federal law.

The bill makes an exception to the probation conditions for the possession and use of medical marijuana pursuant to the state constitution unless the person is convicted of an offense related to medical marijuana.

Did a lack of sympathy for Watkins and others on probation doom the measure? Hardly. After earning House approval, HB 15-1267 passed the Senate on Monday, April 27, by a 34-1 vote. It's now a Hickenlooper signature away from being state law.

Attorney Rachel Gillette, executive director of Colorado NORML, has been among the strongest supporters of the legislation. Corresponding via e-mail, she writes, "I am pleased to hear the bill passed. This bill rights two wrongs — the wrong of denying a marijuana patient’s use of his or her doctor’s recommended treatment while on probation, and second, the wrong of wasting vital government resources by violating a person’s probation when a medical marijuana patient chooses to use that doctor-recommended treatment over (in many cases) more harmful prescription alternatives.

Colorado NORML Executive Director Rachel Gillette.
Colorado NORML Executive Director Rachel Gillette.
File photo

"I look forward to the bill moving on to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk, and his signing of it," she continues. "For years since the Watkins case, medical marijuana patients on probation have had to face an unnecessarily harmful choice — give up their doctor’s recommended treatment or face a probation violation. Such a choice causes unnecessary harm to both the individual and our communities. Allowing access to medical marijuana to a patient is not contradictory to the purposes of probation — which is offender accountability, personal development and public service.

"Now if the federal government would catch up to states on the issue of medical marijuana and marijuana law reform in general, we would be getting somewhere," she adds.

Look below to see the bill, followed by the decision in the Watkins case.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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