The Colorado Supreme Court has overruled a district court decision that upheld a county court ruling requiring a doctor's testimony for medical marijuana patients who want to use their medication while on probation. The Colorado Supreme Court decision, handed down on Monday, November 18, weakens the restrictions and burdens of proof that Colorado judges can place on medical marijuana patients.
In their decision, the justices said that unless a probationer's medical marijuana use conflicts with the specified goals of sentencing, cannabis use should be allowed.
"The relevant exception here applies if the sentencing court finds, based on material evidence, that prohibiting this defendant’s otherwise-authorized medical marijuana use is necessary and appropriate to promote statutory sentencing goals. Because the county court made no such findings here, we disapprove of the district court’s judgment affirming the county court’s decision," the decision reads.
A Colorado law passed in 2015 was supposed to allow probationers to use medical marijuana unless convicted of a crime involving medical marijuana, or cannabis use undermines the goals of a person's sentencing, but a 2016 DUI case in El Paso County led to the push for clarification, after El Paso County Court Judge Karla Hansen demanded that a medical marijuana patient provide live testimony from her doctor about her need for the medication.
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Alysha Walton, the patient charged with the DUI, could only provide her state-approved medical marijuana card and a signed letter from her recommending doctor. Hansen ultimately denied Walton's request to continue using medical marijuana, explaining that her requirement was universal for all medical marijuana patients on probation. A district court upheld Hansen's decision on appeal, but Walton and her attorneys continued to argue that Hansen's policy conflicted with the state constitution, and argued her case before the Colorado Supreme Court in October.
Walton's need for medical marijuana and the authenticity of her doctor's recommendation were never questioned by the county court judge, according to the decision, meaning that any further probing of "the legitimacy of Walton's authorization was misplaced." The justices also criticized Hansen's blanket policy that didn't consider the context of individual cases.
"First, the authenticity of Walton’s medical marijuana card was not at issue in this case — no one argued that Walton had not lawfully obtained her card or that she lacked state-sanctioned authority to use medical marijuana. Thus, the district court’s focus on the county court’s desire to further probe the legitimacy of Walton’s authorization was misplaced," the decision reads. "Second, the county court’s blanket policy contradicts the plain language of the probation conditions statute, which requires the court to base any decision to prohibit medical marijuana use on the particular defendant’s circumstances, after considering the material evidence before it and the statutory sentencing goals."
While the Colorado Supreme Court noted that its decision will not affect Walton — her sentence and probation were completed well over a year ago — it creates a precedent that other medical marijuana patients will welcome.