Should Patients on Probation Be Allowed to Use Medical Marijuana?

In 2012, we told you about a court ruling in the case of Leonard Watkins, a convicted child molester and medical marijuana patient who challenged rules against smoking MMJ while on probation.

Three years later, a new bill scheduled to be heard by a Colorado House committee tomorrow aims to address the issue legislatively — and at least one major marijuana organization is backing the measure.

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.

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 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.
House Bill 15-1267, sponsored by Representative Joe Salazar, attempts 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.

Colorado NORML executive director Rachel Gillette is among the supporters of Salazar's legislation. In a statement, she makes a specific allusion to the Watkins case. It reads in part:
Almost 15 years ago Colorado voters approved the use of medical marijuana under Colorado’s Constitutional Amendment 20. This vote acknowledged the emerging science validating marijuana's medicinal properties. As of today, 23 states and the District of Columbia have approved the use of medical marijuana. Unfortunately, Colorado Courts resisted this evolution, officially denying a probationer’s use of medical marijuana while on probation in 2012 with the Colorado Court of Appeals ruling in People v. Watkins.

Colorado NORML believes forcing a patient to discontinue their physician-recommended treatment with medical marijuana while on probation causes unnecessary harm. Currently, probationers in Colorado are permitted to use a variety of (prescribed) drugs on probation, including dangerous opiates, “benzos”, and other psychoactive drugs. Sadly though, probationers who had previously discontinued or reduced their use of these dangerous drugs are denied use of medical marijuana, forcing them to go back to the more dangerous prescription alternatives, resulting in potential re-addiction and a lower quality of life.
Salazar's bill is slated to be heard by the Judiciary Committee of the Colorado House of Representatives at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 9, and Gillettee notes that " Colorado NORML urges our state legislators to support this important bill. We believe the use of medical marijuana while on probation is not contrary to the purpose of probation.... However, to deny its use for those whom have been recommended its treatment by their physician is unnecessarily cruel, and causes more harm than good."

Look below to see House Bill 15-1267, followed by the Watkins decision.

House Bill 15-1267

State of Colorado v. Leonard Charles Watkins

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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