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Colorado Rules Medical Marijuana Patients On Probation Can Use Cannabis

Court watchers were quick to note that, while unanimous, the state Supreme Court’s ruling was still fairly narrow.

Colorado Rules Medical Marijuana Patients On Probation Can Use Cannabis
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Coloradans on probation can continue to use medical marijuana, the state’s Supreme Court ruled Monday, rebuking a district court judge’s decision from two years ago.

In a unanimous decision, Colorado’s highest court ruled that defendants with cannabis prescriptions are free to do so unless it could be proved that doing so would negatively affect their progress.

The ruling stems from a 2017 case involving Alysha Walton, who pled guilty for driving under the influence of alcohol. Walton received probation, but El Paso County, Colorado Judge Karla Hansen denied Walton’s use of medical marijuana because the defendant was unable to get a physician to testify on her behalf. Walton did provide documentation to show that she had an authorized prescription, but Hansen deemed that insufficient.

A 2015 Colorado law permits individuals with medical marijuana registry cards to continue to fulfill their prescriptions while on probation.

Judges Disagree

In their ruling on Monday, the state Supreme Court justices said they “disapprove” of Hansen’s judgment.

“The supreme court holds that the statute’s plain language creates a presumption that a defendant who is sentenced to a term of probation may use medical marijuana unless one of the enumerated exceptions applies,” the justices wrote. “The prosecution bears the burden of overcoming the presumption. The relevant exception in this case requires the court to make particularized findings, 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, the supreme court disapproves of the district court’s order affirming the county court’s decision.”

The justices said that the “plain language” of the 2015 statute “creates a presumption that a defendant may use medical marijuana while serving a sentence to probation unless a statutory exception applies.”

“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,” they said. “Because the county court made no such findings here, we disapprove of the district court’s judgment affirming the county court’s decision.”

Colorado attorney Christopher Jackson observed on Twitter that the justices “didn’t rule on whether the challenged order [violated] any constitutional right to marijuana possession.”

The 2015 law also allows for some wiggle room, deferring to judges on whether there is pertinent evidence in cases that should preclude defendants from fulfilling their medical cannabis prescriptions. In other words: stay tuned for more on this.

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