HELENA - The state Department of Corrections has backed off from a proposed rule that would bar anyone on parole or probation from obtaining medical marijuana without a judge's approval.
Proponents of the medical marijuana law, passed by voters in 2004, argued during a March hearing that the law does not allow any penalty for using medical marijuana, regardless of a person's criminal history.
"Our hands are tied by the way the initiative-passed law was written," Diana Koch, chief legal counsel for the department, said in a statement Thursday. "As a result, those who have broken the law cannot be subject to this reasonable restriction."
Tom Daubert of Patients and Families United, a medical marijuana advocacy group, said the decision "recognizes that medical marijuana is entirely legal for any Montanan suffering from a qualifying medical condition whose doctor recommends it."
"I think this decision only affects a tiny number of Montanans, but it's hugely important to their quality of life and their ability to alleviate their pain and suffering," Daubert said.
Koch said she isn't sure Montana voters "understood that the medical marijuana act was going to go this far. There is the very real possibility that a person convicted of drug distribution can get a medical marijuana card and there is nothing probation and parole officers can do about it."
Daubert said it was the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes that got some of them in trouble with the law in the first place.
"All the people on probation whom I know who were convicted of a drug offense are actually legitimately suffering patients whose use of marijuana either predated our state law or who didn't understand the law as an affirmative defense and pled guilty to a crime they didn't actually commit," he said.
Koch stressed that the decision to exclude the marijuana provision from probation and parole rules does not mean the department endorses the use of marijuana.
"The use of marijuana is not in the best interest of the public or of offenders, who are responsible for rehabilitating themselves while under supervision in the community," Koch said.
The issue came up as the Department of Corrections was developing standard conditions for offenders on parole or probation.
The agency had proposed prohibiting the use of medical marijuana unless the offenders obtained a judge's exemption.
The probation and parole rules, scheduled to take effect June 13, include a prohibition on gambling, firearms and alcohol use; allowing searches of an offender's home and random testing for alcohol or illegal drug use; and offenders' payment of court-ordered fines and restitution.
Newshawk: Richard Lake
Pubdate: Fri, 30 May 2008
Source: Missoulian (MT)
Copyright: 2008 Missoulian
Note: Only prints letters from within its print circulation area
Author: Amy Beth Hanson, Associated Press
Cited: Patients and Families United http://www.mtmjpatients.org
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/mmj.htm (Marijuana - Medicinal)